I recently enrolled in the Automotive Technician program at the local Tech school (www.okefenokeetech.edu). At the time, I thought that I might try something other than IT for a change.
Being an automotive tech is a difficult and challenging career. There’s a lot going on in the modern automobile. Add to that the fact that most new cars were engineered to run efficiently and fit in smaller and smaller spaces, and you can start to see where maintenance and repair were either low on the list of priorities or missing completely.
Getting your hands positioned correctly to work on much of the automobile can require a lot of patience and about $40,000 (I’m not exaggerating) worth of tools.
To be an auto mechanic, you need to buy your own tools, as most shops do not provide the basic and intermediate tools you need. When the tool salesman came for a visit, he told us that buying tools is a lifelong endeavor that would never end. Then he showed us the most basic set of tools, which costs about $1500 for a student (with a 50% discount).
I enrolled in Introduction to Automotive and Automotive Electrical Systems in my first semester.
The way the program works is interesting. You spend your first few weeks in the classroom studying the textbook in order to take a series of tests about the material. Once you have finished the chapter tests, you then take a safety quiz. Once you pass the safety quiz with a 100% score, you are then allowed to enter the shop.
The shop has 4 internal bays and 4 external bays with 5 lifts and an aligment machine (which has a built in lift). On the back wall is a smattering of machines used to balance tires, machine brake rotors and drums, and recharge the A/C system. In the middle, just behind the lifts, is a set of metal work tables.
You are given a document containing a long list of tasks that you are expected to do within the span of a single semester. It is up to you to get those tasks done before the semester ends. At odds with my expectations, there isn’t any instructional lecturing taking place. All instruction takes place on a as-needed basis to get you through a particular task.
Accomplishing your tasks can be a challenge because there are only a few cars in the shop at any given moment, and not all of them need that kind of work done to them. When there is a car that needs work that’s on your task list, you must compete with the other students in the class in order to perform the work. Many times, you team up and everyone on the team gets the credit.
However, most of the time, the work you do will not be on your task list. It’s just experience for your future career.
The school has a fleet of “state vehicles” that they use to transport employees to conferences, training, and recruitment as well as a forestry bus that is used for the forestry program. These vehicles are on a regular maintenance schedule such that we work on one vehicle a day. During maintenance of the vehicle, basic checks are done to the electrical system, lights, tires, brakes, engine, and transmission. If something is broken or needs maintenance, we do the work ourselves. We also change the oil and filter every 2,000 miles.
I learned early on in the semester that this is not the type of work I was meant for, but I am learning all that I can. It’s very interesting to see the application of all the tools. I also like the people in the program. Everyone is friendly and well-mannered (well, everyone except one person, who is constantly cursing and being negative). The instructors are extremely knowledgeable.
I’ve decided to stay with IT. I’m just wired for it. I’m a computer nerd at heart and not a car nerd, but everything I’ve learned will definitely help me in the future.