The future looks strong for female technicians

March 5, 2019
The industry needs to support student technicians more, both men and women.

It seems that many companies and/or recruiters are still focused on the experienced technician. In other words, the instant gratification of a hire that can be productive the first day on the shop floor. But, hiring that experienced tech sometimes comes with challenges. When companies keep fishing in the same pond, they will get the same results.

The Technology and Maintenance Council continues to grow the TMCFutureTech student technician skills competition and work to attract high-quality students, instructors and schools that want to be part of the event. Not only are we able to showcase their skills through competition, but we can also expose students to the Technology and Maintenance Council and the industry.

As we continue to work to address the shortage of qualified technician applicants to work in fleets, independent shops and dealerships across the country, we also need to look at who and how we are promoting and recruiting.

Rethink the hiring approach

Since the start of TMCFutureTech, we have had an increased number of female students compete. In 2016, 10 percent of contestants were female. They have chosen our industry and are enrolling in training programs across the country. I reached out to some who have participated in previous competitions to find out where they are and what they are doing now. I also wanted to reach out and ask if there is something our industry is missing that might help encourage and possibly recruit more women to our industry.

Of the six I interviewed, all are still in the industry. Here are some interesting facts from the interviews:

  • Four of the six said their dad was their primary influence growing up.
  • Two have bachelor’s degrees, and one of those two also earned her MBA while working as a truck technician.
  • Two served in the military, both for the U.S. Navy.
  • Four work for major fleets and two work for independent shops.
  • Three attended public colleges and three attended private schools.
  • All six were sponsored to compete in TMCFutureTech, with four of the six now working for their sponsoring company. The others were sponsored by an individual or their school.
  • All love what they do.

It was interesting to know that the women whose dads influenced them all came from different and some completely unrelated occupations. From running equipment to a former U.S. Marine then English teacher, to U.S. Navy electrical engineer-turned-network analyst, to a fabricator, all of these men worked on cars and projects at home and included their daughters. These women spoke about how those experiences and time with their dads really impacted them and helped shape their future.

A look at past participants

Bonnie Greenwood won the TMCFutureTech competition in 2017. Growing up in Georgia, Greenwood developed her competitive edge by playing soccer, and in high school she was named a two-time state champion. Both of her parents were veterinarians. With these career paths, Greenwood believed college was her only option after graduating high school – military and trade school weren’t options.

Greenwood stated that she found herself sitting at a desk working at a bank and realized it wasn’t for her, so she enrolled at WyoTech. WyoTech has supported students to participate in TMCFutureTech every year, and has had students place in the top three every year – sometimes winning the entire competition. In addition, WyoTech has had multiple female students compete. Greenwood was sponsored by FedEx Freight along with other students that year and since.

Both Helen Burney and Brianna Luckman served in the U.S. Navy. Burney was a sonar tech on both destroyers and cruisers; Luckman was an avionics tech on both a carrier and cruiser.

Before joining the U.S. Navy, Burney had enrolled in college due to her love of science and ambition to teach. During her student teaching Burney did not like the classroom setting, and decided to pursue another opportunity and joined the U.S. Navy. After her time in the U.S. Navy, Burney enrolled at Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) in Virginia Beach, Virginia. There she was selected to compete in TMCFutureTech. After completing school, Burney went on to work in a local independent shop, and earned her MBA. She is now going back to school once again to get her commercial driver’s license with plans to return working as a technician.

Luckman returned to home after the U.S. Navy to attend Northwest Technical in northwestern Arkansas, while interning at a Walmart maintenance facility in the area. It was at this maintenance facility that she was given the opportunity to compete in Walmart’s student competition as part of their national technician competition, and she won. This qualified her to compete in TMCFutureTech with the Walmart team. Brianna is still employed by Walmart.

Angel May competed twice at TMCFutureTech and attended her local technical school, Forsyth Tech. Forsyth Tech has a great program and has had past TMCFutureTech winners. Many of their students already have jobs in the industry before they complete their education. For instance, Salem Lease is a great supporter of the heavy duty technician program and of the students who attend TMCFutureTech. The WheelTime Network also supports this program and even holds their internal competition on the Forsyth campus, including Forsyth students. May has been sponsored by both of these organizations. She is currently employed by Salem Lease and loves being a technician.

Sydney Kelley-Behm also attended her local school, Francis Tuttle, in Oklahoma City. Francis Tuttle is another excellent school with great support from not only the committee but also the state trucking association. Kelley-Behm was sponsored by D&M Carriers, d.b.a. Freymiller, as a student and has continued to work for them since. She worked with her dad and learned about engines growing up. When it came time to look for a career to support a family, she stated diesel technology was a natural choice for her and one she knew she would enjoy.

Tabitha Williams was sponsored by her school, North American Trade School, in Maryland. Williams was a single mother looking for a job, and wanted to understand how to fix her own car. She opted for North American Trade School because it was located nearby, and the only diesel program in the area. She toured the school and enrolled. When Williams was selected to compete in TMCFutureTech, she had not been in school that long, had minimal knowledge and was nervous, but she wanted to compete. She is currently working in industry.

Each of the female technicians interviewed spoke about what a great organization TMC is, and the value they feel it provides the industry. Many mentioned the TMC Recommended Practices CD they received and how much helps to assist with making the proper repairs and reduces comebacks.

As for TMCFutureTech, they all stated they studied and did whatever they could to prepare. All were amazed at the support and commitment. Everyone stated they were nervous to compete, but learned so much and were able to take things back to school and share that knowledge with others. Also, every one of them stated they would love to compete in TMCSuperTech. They truly believe they would be prepared and go to win.

One thing that came across in all of the interviews was how much they love what they do and how everyone gets along in the shops. All of the women technicians interviewed were the first female technicians in the shop, but all felt welcomed and became part of the “shop family.”

Conclusion

As we continue to discuss and work to find solutions for the technician shortage, consider more non-traditional employees. Let’s look at ways to recruit more women into our industry and gather knowledge and energy from these women who have compete, and from those who haven’t.

In addition, we need more companies that are willing and able to support all students to compete in TMCFutureTech and expose them to TMC and everything our industry has to offer.

An organization called the TechForce Foundation allows companies, suppliers, fleets and manufacturers who would like to support and/or sponsor a student but might not be able to contribute directly. The organization is working to allow these organizations to make a charitable contribution to TechForce Foundation so those funds can go directly to support students’ fees and travel to compete in TMCFutureTech. This is our future and every one of these women I’ve had the chance to communicate with can and will make a difference in our industry. We need to help more like them reach their potential.

George Arrants is the training consultant for K&D Technical Innovations. As an automotive education consultant specializing in National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF)/ASE Accreditation, Arrants works with instructors and administrators to develop partnerships with local business and industry through program advisory committees. He chairs the Technology and Maintenance Council’s TMCSuperTech – the National Technician Skills Competition – and the TMCFutureTech – the National Student Technician Competition. His entire career has been in the automotive service and education industries.

About the Author

George Arrants | Training consultant, K&D Technical Innovations

George Arrants is the vice president for ASE Education Foundation. Arrants works with instructors and administrators to develop partnerships with local businesses and industries through program advisory committees. He is the past chair of the Technology and Maintenance Council’s TMCSuperTech, the National Technician Skills Competition, and TMCFutureTech, the National Student Technician Competition. His entire career has been in the automotive service and education industries.

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