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The value of ASE certifications

July 21, 2022
ASE’s SVP of Communications explains what professional-level credentials mean for maintenance technicians and the businesses that employ them.

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which turns 50 this year, started out with only four certification tests for automotive technicians. Since 1972, ASE counts 2.1 million program graduates among its ranks, and currently offers 57 tests that range from cars to medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles and much more.

To better understand what ASE certifications mean for the technicians, how they can boost recruitment and retention for shops, and the value they offer the maintenance industry as a whole, we spoke with Trish Serratore, ASE's SVP of communications.

[This interview has been edited for clarity and length.]

Fleet MaintenanceHow did ASE begin and what does the institution look like today?

Trish SerratoreASE: We were started from an outcry from the public about not being able to get their car fixed appropriately. It got to the point where there were congressional hearings regarding auto repair, the maliciousness, and people getting ripped off. And so, the industry decided to come together, from the OEMs and The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), and they told Congress ‘We can take care of our own, and we’ve got a plan.’ They did a study that showed that there was a mechanism to identify the competency level of individuals via a test, and then awarding a credential based on the outcome of that test and attaching some experience requirement to it.

The original founders of ASE, through that initiative with NADA and the car companies, expanded to the aftermarket, to trucks, to collision, and everybody who had an interest in making sure that the industry took care of its own and recognized the skills and knowledge of our service professionals, as opposed to having a licensure or tax come down.

The first tests were delivered in 1972. There were only four and they were in the automobile category. And we took off and ran from there. Today, we’re roughly at 57 tests. And for almost every certification test, we have a recertification test.

We give a lot of tests every year to a lot of service professionals. We started out in automobile, and we’ve added medium and heavy truck, collision repair, school bus, and transit bus. We also have parts specialist certification, service consultant, advanced level tests, and the ASE maintenance and light repair certification test. We’re pretty much covering every system in almost every vehicle out there.

ASE is industry based. We didn’t just decide to make this up because we wanted to; we continuously have input from all of those sectors telling us, ‘Hey, here’s what’s coming down the road. You need to have a test for it,’ or ‘Let’s revise the test you have.’ ASE, in conjunction with the industry, has really made it what it is. We’re a not-for-profit organization, run by a board of directors and governors from the industry. We’re not doing this to make money. We’re doing this to support and recognize the professionalism of our industry.

FMWhat is the process for a technician seeking to obtain an ASE certification?

TS: The first thing we suggest is checkout and hit the navigation button called ‘Tests.’ That will take you to a page that shows you all the available tests that ASE offers.

We have all the information regarding when the tests are given, and we are testing almost year-round. However, we do have deadlines to register. That’s just simply to remind you to do something. If you miss it, you can catch up in the next window.

The next thing you do after you’ve read about the test and understand what might be covered on it, and when it might be, we ask you to create a myASE account. Then, we will assign you an ID number and your account is created. You then can go in and look and see where the particular test you want to take is being given near you. We have about 300 Prometric brick and mortar computer-based test centers around the country. You can see where the test center is, and then you can choose the test you want to take, and then you can pick when you want to take it. Then you can purchase the test, through that account, using a credit card. At that point, you would receive a confirmation that we’ve gotten the information when you want to test and where you want to test. You receive an admission ticket—you will want to hang on to that. You can manage all of those items through the myASE account.

The day of the test, you show up at the test center. They’re going to ask you to turn out your pockets, and look at your glasses, and put your pen away. There is a little bit of “TSA stuff” going on there. But it’s important because we want to be sure that no one is trying to impersonate you or take advantage of you and get in and perhaps get your credentials. We want to be sure that all the correct security protocols are done.

The technician sits down and takes the test on the computer. After they are finished, have collected their items, and get to their car, the test results are in their inbox.

In addition to passing an ASE test—any test that you’re taking to be ASE certified—you must also indicate that you have two years of work experience in the area that you’re going to be certified in. Once you show us that information, we store it for you so that you don’t have to do it again.

The myASE portal allows you to manage your credentials. It’ll tell you when you’re going to expire. All of our tests have a five-year expiration. And so, it’ll send you an email saying you’re getting ready to expire.

It’s important to note that we don’t sell that information. It is sacrosanct at ASE. The only people who mail against it would be us. We’re very protective of our service professional data.

FMAre there any differences with the re-certification procedure?

TS: Say you need to recertify in brakes. You click on the brakes test, you pick that test center and when you want to take it, and the whole process works similarly. The only difference is the recertification test is a shorter test. And it has a higher degree of difficulty to the questions. The assumption being you’ve been working as a technician for the last five years. So therefore, you’ve seen and have had access to some of the newer technology or changes in service and repair procedures in that five-year time. So, we’ve upped the ante a little bit. Most people, if they’re already certified and they come and take a re-cert test, are probably going to pass.

FM: Does ASE offer resources to aid technicians seeking certification?

TS: We have a couple of options. First of all, we offer what we call study guides. The study guides provide you with percentages of content that is on the test. So again, let’s use brakes as an example. The study guide would tell you that on the brakes test, 50% of the questions are going to be on drum brakes and 40% are going to be on ABS brakes, and so on. It will break down the particular categories that are covered on the test by percentage so that you can see where you want to make sure you emphasize your study period. The number of questions determine the percentage.

See also: ASE Test Preparation from Motor Age Training

Then, the study guide goes through each individual task that a potential question might refer to on the on the exam. You can go through the ABS section, and it will list that there is maybe going to be 15 tasks in that section. There might be only seven questions on the exam, but if you understand all 15 of those tasks, you’re going to be prepared to be able to answer whatever questions appear on the exam. The test questions always relate back to that task list. You’re not going to see some pie out of the sky question; you’re going to recognize it because you looked at the task list, and it’s going to relate back to that task.

FMAre there any challenges or hurdles for technicians trying to obtain a certification?

TS: The first test you take should always be the one you’re the most comfortable with. Don’t try and do all of them at once. Pick a couple that make sense to you and get them under your belt.

When we’re looking forward or looking at some of the other test categories, I think our industry, while we don’t necessarily struggle with them, electrical and electrical systems is a complicated system. We find that that’s one that can be a little more challenging if that’s not an area that you have a lot of experience in.

And then of course, as you move up the ladder, our advanced level tests have a much more diagnostic and higher-level technology aspect to them. I wouldn’t recommend that you shoot for those until you get some of the normal ASE tests under your belt and you’ve had some experience working in the field.

FMAre there any certifications that stand out that would help an entry-level technician become a well-rounded beginner?

TS: No matter if you’re in auto, truck, or collision, I would recommend taking the G1—Auto Maintenance and Light Repair Certification Test—particularly if you’re coming out of an automotive service technology or a diesel program. That test is very broad, but shallow. That one is a really good one to start with across the board.

FM: The automotive and transportation industry has seen a huge momentum shift towards electrification and the integration of technologies such as ADAS. How has ASE addressed these changes with the certifications available to technicians?

TS: While, currently, we do not have a standalone certification for electric vehicles, the safety and other areas around electric vehicles are covered in the appropriate test category. So, if there’s something to do with electric vehicles’ braking, you’re going to see that in the brakes test. If it’s an alignment issue related to electric vehicles, you’ll see that in the alignment test. 

However, we are working on a high-voltage electric vehicle safety assessment program. What we are doing is establishing the standards around safety for the technicians, who are actually working on the vehicles, and for those individuals who are in the shop, so maybe the service manager or even the lot boy. You must be careful when you’re walking around the service bay when there’s an electric vehicle, particularly if it’s being serviced, because there are certain safety issues surrounding that. It focuses on overall safety as it relates to the facility. We’ve created the standard through industry support. We will be holding a question-writing workshop in the coming weeks, and we hope to have the first safety assessment out before the end of the year. 

The goal there is to support the industry. There’s a lot of information out there about service and repair. But we also want to be sure that everybody in the shop is safe around those vehicles. That’s our first goal. And then we’ll move into the technical side, perhaps, a little bit further down the road. 

On the ADAS side, that’s a brand-new test. We just launched it in May. It’s our Level 4 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Specialist Certification Test and it covers both the diagnostic aspects as well as calibration. You also must be certified in A6 Electrical/Electronic Systems before you can take the test because we want to be sure that you have a good grounding in everything electrical before you move into tackling the more complicated issues of ADAS.

We’re excited about that test; we’ve had a couple hundred people take the test in just the first two weeks that it had been out. And we’ve had some good responses on that.

We’re excited about offering those two tests, specifically. We think that they are very relevant for what’s going on, and certainly with what technicians are seeing in the service space.

FMHow can a busy shop with only a few technicians afford to send a tech to train and certify while work at the shop remains?

TS: First of all, it is so important to continue the training and certification, because the second you don’t, you drop behind. Despite the fact that maybe you have good people, if you don’t keep up with training, your shop and your folks are going to fall back. And in the long run, they’re either going to leave or your shop is going to have issues in terms of being able to get stuff done right. So, while we all appreciate that it’s a complicated situation because of the technician shortage and the lack of time and energy to be able to do that, it’s still important to figure out a way to do that. And I don’t necessarily have the answer; I just know that if the shop is going to continue to be successful and put out productive, efficient, and good work, training and certification do need to be integral to that.

So how do we do that? A lot of the vehicle manufacturers and other folks are offering training; whether there’s the ability for the shop to let the individual go on-site, through COVID, we learned that there’s a lot of online training, a lot of virtual training out there, and trying to figure out a way to incorporate that into the business—whether it’s lunch and learns, or whether the shop can do something to support the individual doing it after work, or a group session on the weekend—I think it’s just really important to make sure that training stays in place.

The certification part is pretty easy. It’s a whole lot shorter of a timeframe to get that done in the sense that most of our ASE tests are only an hour long. We have multiple opportunities to test, including early evenings and some of our test centers have weekend availability. There’s a way to fit that in a little bit more easily than if we’re looking at a week-long training session.

It is important to maintain both of those things as businesses and as the vehicles that the shops are working on get more complicated. Also, it becomes a selling point for recruitment. If a shop is committed to making sure that the individuals are trained and certified and credentialed, that word gets out. That word gets out to people who are looking to move from a shop that doesn’t do that. And particularly when you have folks coming out of automotive service technology programs, where continuous learning was built-in and they were doing that every day, that’s an expected part of what they’ve had in their past. When they walk into a shop and that’s not there, they’re potentially concerned about that. They may ask themselves ‘What is my career going to be if I don’t see a career path or a training pathway to help me be better?’ So, I think they go hand-in-hand; you’re going to retain your people better if you keep them trained and certified, and you’re going to recruit better people if you offer that as a selling point to go into work at your facility.

Our research over the years has shown that individuals who are ASE Certified have better retention; they stay in their business, or where they’re working, longer. They have better productivity rates. And they’re just all-around better employees because they have pride in what they do. And that benefits the business 100%.

FM: What is the value of a certification for a technician? How are they be incentivized to obtain certifications?

TS: One of the reasons ASE was created 50 years ago was to be able to provide the car owner with the ability to determine that they were getting their car serviced properly and professionally. And I don’t think that has really changed over the last 50 years.

What an ASE credential offers the technician, and we’ll start with the forward-facing technician—someone who’s working on somebody’s vehicle—is the ability to say to that person, ‘I’ve been certified by the industry I work in that says that I have the skills and the knowledge to fix your car correctly.’

The sense of pride that a certification offers an individual—it’s incalculable. It says ‘I know what I know, and someone else has verified it. I can tell my customers comfortably and with validity that I have that knowledge.’

That pride factor—we think that’s part and parcel of the ASE certification. Moving beyond that, because our industry recognizes that credential as having value, we hope that technician is going to get paid more. We hope that there’s a monetary incentive to keep and maintain that credential.

There’s also a commitment from the manager and the business that says, ‘We value your skill, so we’re either going to pay for you to become certified, or we’re going to add something to your paycheck for your certification.’ It’s a bit of a chicken-egg; we want the business to support the individual becoming certified and we want the individual to get certified because he brings value back to the business.

FM: What does it mean for the vehicle repair industry as a whole that ASE is able to certify technicians at a professional level to carry out their services?

TS: One can only hope that the impression has changed, whether it’s from car owners or businesses, that this is a dirty fingernails job that you do in this messy shop, or that you cringe when you have to take your vehicle there. I think what ASE has done is supported the overall perception of technicians as technicians, and not grease monkeys or dirty mechanics. It’s probably a little-known fact that back in 1983, when we changed from the orange and blue insignia to our blue and white, we changed the name from ‘mechanic’ to ‘technician.’ That was really the very first time that the word ‘technician’ was attached to the industry. So, we have played a small role in supporting the overall professionalism and the understanding that this a job that requires skills and knowledge, in addition to training and tools, and that car owners need to recognize that, and the employers need to recognize that. This isn’t just somebody they’ve hauled off the street and put a wrench in their hand. This is somebody that’s dealing with computers, and scan tools, and other technologies today.

I think, overall, what ASE has done is it’s been able to offer the industry a way, in addition to many other ways and many other initiatives, to support service professionals being true professionals and being recognized for what they know, their training, and the thousands of dollars of tools that they have to fix your car, or your truck, or the fleet’s fleet efficiently and properly.

About the Author

Tyler Fussner | Associate Editor | Fleet Maintenance

Tyler Fussner is Managing Editor - Community Manager at Supply Chain Connect, part of the Design & Engineering Group at Endeavor Business Media.

Previously, Fussner served as the Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. As part of Endeavor's Commercial Vehicle Group, his work has been published in FleetOwner magazine, as well as Bulk TransporterRefrigerated Transporter, and Trailer-Body Builders.

Fussner's May 2022 print feature 'The dawn of hydrogen trucks' was named the best single technology article in B2B by the judges of the 2022 Folio: Eddie and Ozzie Awards. Fussner was also awarded Silver in the Technical Article category for the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) 2021 Tabbie Awards.

Fussner previously served as Assistant Editor for Endeavor's Transportation Group on the PTEN, Professional Distributor, and brands.

Fussner studied professional writing and publishing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has experience in shop operations, is a Michelin Certified Tire Technician, and a Michelin Certified Tire Salesperson.