Working as an automotive service technician

An auto mechanic, or auto service technician, is someone trained in the proper functioning of automobiles. Their work could involve everything from repairs, such as after an accident, to upgrades to existing features, like installing a new engine or transmission, to regular inspections to determine if a vehicle is safe for the road. By applying their skills, they keep the world in motion, enabling us to go about our day in a timely fashion. Their expertise can centre on one or more of a car’s component systems:

  • Air-conditioning, refrigeration, and heating.
  • Fuel, engine management, and emission control systems.
  • Alignment of wheels, axles, frames, and steering mechanisms.
  • Suspension, including shock absorbers and spring assemblies.
  • Engines, transmissions, clutches, rear ends, differentials, brakes, drive shafts, and other assemblies.
  • Ignition, charging and starting, panel instruments, wiring, and other electrical/electronic systems and equipment.

Besides fixing cars, an auto service technician may also provide services that overlap with related trades. According to the Ontario College of Trades (OCT), there are eleven trades that relate to autos directly in addition to auto service technician:

With lots of options to specialize in, it makes sense that auto mechanics would appeal to many different employers in the sector. See a few below:

  • Motor vehicle dealers.
  • Garages.
  • Truck and trailer dealerships.
  • Fleet maintenance companies.
  • Service stations.
  • Automotive specialty shops.
  • Transportation companies.
  • Motor vehicle manufacturing companies.

Depending on where you end up working, it is then reasonable to expect a new job to involve skills beyond your chosen trade(s). For example, a dealership position will likely benefit from customer service skills. A vehicle manufacturer might hire consultants to help rewrite quality standards. And a business may ask for cost estimates before partnering with a fleet maintenance company.

Job market outlook

A blog on the website of Audtex Canada (a supplier to the auto insurance and collision repair industry), Who will fix cars in 2025? (Feb 15, 2018), describes the outlook for auto technicians in the coming years: “There’s a huge problem facing the Canadian auto aftermarket, attacking on two fronts: rapidly advancing vehicle technology and a shortage of skilled tradespeople… Vehicles are evolving, as are the skill sets needed to safely repair them… The collision industry in Canada is reporting a growing challenge in hiring new talent. Independent shops and larger chains are already starting to feel the pressure, and it will only accelerate between now and 2025.”

This outlook is echoed in a report in Automotive News Canada (Apr. 23, 2019)  Industry is in a fix to find folks who can fix: “Dealerships across Canada face a “desperate” shortage of qualified technicians, according to the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association.

For those dealing with the increasingly complex technology in cars and trucks, specialized knowledge will be especially important.

We can also expect more women will enter what has been a traditionally male occupation.

According to the Indeed.com website, “The average salary for an automotive technician is $26.25 per hour in Toronto, which meets the national average.” Entry-level wages are usually much lower, but talented and experienced auto technicians can make much more than this average.

Regulation and certification

The occupation of automotive service technician is a regulated trade in Ontario. A prospective apprentice must find an employer to hire them on a paid basis, join the Ontario College of Trades, and enroll in a community college program. They could also enroll in a college before locating paid apprentice work. Following the apprenticeship period—6,500 hours of work and 720 hours of in-school training—the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skilled Development (MAESD) issues a certificate of completion. Then, after passing the certification exam, the individual can be registered as a “journeyman” in the trade.

An internationally-trained newcomer can apply for a Trade Equivalency Assessment (TEA) if they  believe their experience and qualifications in a trade are the same as having completed an Ontario apprenticeship program. The assessment determines if a newcomer can write a desired trade certification exam. If they live with a physical or mental barrier that may pose difficulties during the exam, they can request the company of a translator, interpreter, or reader. Documentation must be translated into English or French by an accredited translator before applying.

Value of English language proficiency

There is no official language level requirement for Ontario trade certification. However, in order to enroll for in-school automotive service technician programs, applicants usually need at least a high school education or the equivalent, including Grade 12 English. But if a newcomer finds apprentice work that doesn’t require strong English, they can begin work immediately and improve their language proficiency before taking courses.

Given the importance of understanding and being able to discuss the latest automotive technology, a proficiency of CLB 6 or 7 is likely a reasonable minimum threshold for most automotive technicians to not only be hired, but also have good future earning potential.

Private sponsors can be of great assistance to refugee newcomers in the field, especially when it comes to communication. This can be through personal networks where a chance connection results in opportunity. It could be as simple as helping fill out forms, because a foreign language can make tasks like these seem insurmountable. Then there’s tutoring with a focus on job-specific vocabulary. Once a newcomer masters these terms, they will have a foundation of both knowledge and confidence to carry themselves forward. Such was the case in Ottawa, where, with the help of his sponsors in 2016, Syrian newcomer Nabil Al Dabei found a full-time position fixing cars. While Al Dabei’s English was much better, by the time that this story had been written, he had yet to write his journeyman certification exam, but this had not kept his employer from praising his work and paying him for it.

Training programs in the GTA

Unfortunately, there are currently no training or bridging programs for auto mechanics in the GTA created with newcomers in mind. We recommend contacting one or more of the providers below to determine suitability.

Pre-apprenticeships

Generally speaking, pre-apprenticeships cover the theory and hands-on-practice needed to work as an apprentice.

  • Centennial College also has pre-apprenticeship programs for both automotive service technicians and truck and coach technicians.
  • Tropicana Employment Centre offers a free, 30-week program in Autobody and Collision Damage Repair. It includes a 12-week paid work placement and is meant for youth (ages 18 to 30) with a valid driver’s license. (Note that this program is for auto body work and not for auto repair technicians.)

Apprenticeships

  • Centennial College offers an automotive service technician apprenticeship program. For those securing apprenticeship employment with Canadian Tire, students can enroll in a modified apprenticeship program that runs over 32 weeks.
  • In Hamilton, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program runs an accelerated 2-year program for budding automotive service technicians. Among its benefits are access to Mohawk College’s modern learning facilities and work placement in the industry while you study. Students must be at least 16 years old and registered as apprentices with the OCT before signing up.

To view other in-class programs available at Ontario community colleges, see OCT’s list of Ontario Colleges Offering Automotive Mechanic and Repair Programs.

Diplomas

  • Centennial College and Durham College both offer two-year diplomas in auto mechanics.
  • Automotive Training Centres’ automotive technology training program could also be a worthwhile option for newcomers more comfortable with a private institution. Since 1984, ATS claims to have helped thousands of people break into the industry by way of limited class sizes, a practical focus, and a high rate of job placements for graduating students.

Occupation-Specific Language Training (OSLT)

  • On hiatus until at least Fall, 2020, Colleges Ontario’s OSLT service has offered a program on Workplace Communication Skills for Automotive Trades. Participants learn to interact in different professional settings with an emphasis on building bonds with customers and co-workers.