Training program drives more women to become auto mechanics
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Jacqueline Nanney hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom in about 10 months. But the senior at Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee, is still taking classes to learn how to be an auto mechanic.
“This is as close as it gets, this system right here. You’re still working on cars, just computer-wise,” said Nanney, as she navigated her school’s virtual auto shop. “You’re moving a mouse, but it still guides you through things that we’ll learn at school.”
Since the pandemic shut down Maplewood’s physical workshop, students have been performing vehicle checks through an online simulator. It’s all part of an effort to address a nationwide mechanic shortage, while also propelling more women into the auto repair field.
Nanney is one of three young women participating in the Bridgestone-sponsored Maplewood High School automotive training program. There are a total of 24 students in the class. They’re scheduled to graduate in May.
Nanney also works part-time inside of a Firestone Complete Auto Care retail store. She said she’s motivated to show that women are strong enough to be mechanics.
“You don’t see a lot of women working on cars physically. This is why I picked it,” Nanney said. “Some people have their own opinion on why some women shouldn’t work on cars.”
Overall, with retirements and growth within the sector, the National Automobile Dealers Association estimates 76,000 technicians need to be replaced each year.
“There’s such a short number of folks in our field, or the pool, so we have to provide that ultimate pay, as well as benefits package, too,” said Chuck Bowles, a region manager at Bridgestone automotive company.
Bowles said while it’s been challenging to recruit more women into the industry, becoming a mechanic is an opportunity for them to earn good money — especially if they have families.
“We try to give them everything that they need to function as a mother, and as a teammate at the same time,” Bowles said.
On average, he said, entry-level workers at Bridgestone can start at about $15 per hour. On the high end, he said, employees can bring in $100,000 annually. This is on top of accumulating paid leave, maternity time and vacation days.
But still, even for the women who do work in the auto field, many aren’t working on cars.
“If you look around the dealerships, you’ll see women, but you’ll see them doing the service writing part,” said TJ Williams, Maplewood’s auto instructor. “There are occasions where you’ll see a few women actually in the shop doing work.”
Williams, who’s been a mechanic for 40 years, said she hopes the training program will help change that.
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