Most In-Demand Jobs in the Abilene Area Include Automotive Technicians

For high schoolers who want to learn computer science, Gerod Strother would like them to consider blowing off an automobile hood.

“Most new vehicles have 15 to 30 microprocessors — little computers — on the car. And that’s where we’re really trying to push the technical side of that,” said Strother, an automotive technology instructor at the Sweetwater campus. from Texas State Technical College.

And mechanics — or auto technicians, as they’re called today — are in high demand.

“They say there’s a shortage of nurses across the country…auto technicians are right there with them – I think there’s a shortage of between 60,000 and 80,000 across America,” Strother said.

This shortage is a problem in Abilene and the region.

“In our areas, every dealership I’ve spoken to needs at least one, two or three technicians,” said Jeff Clement, parts and service manager for Star dealerships, two located in Abilene and one in BigSpring.

It’s the worst staffing shortage in the company’s 38 years, he said.

For customers, this means waiting longer for auto repairs, especially if the work is important and parts are unavailable due to supply chain disruptions.

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Why is there a shortage of automotive technicians?

The gap between master technicians retiring and new graduates to fill their ranks was widening before the pandemic, Clement said.

COVID-19 has made the situation worse.

“Over the past few years, we have instilled in our young people that the magic key to career success is a college education. Some very lucrative careers – and this is one – don’t require a four-year college degree. a college,” Clement said.

Automotive technicians can be trained for two years or less at a technical school or junior college for employment in shops and dealerships.

While earning an entry-level salary, new hires undergo more on-the-job training to become certified master technicians by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and/or individual manufacturers.

“It takes education. It takes time, but the technical training kind of took a back seat for so long,” Clement said.

LIFT Center Sophomore Zoe Nuncio, 16, assists automotive technology instructor Matt Parker as they check the winch of an ATV after reconnecting it in class on Tuesday.

This technical aspect of auto repair is another reason for the gap. Gone are the days when a competent mechanic could diagnose a problem simply by listening to the engine run or “take a stethoscope and put it up against something” to pinpoint the problem, Strother said.

“I think roughly from the 1970s through the 80s through the 90s, even into the early 2000s, you basically have the same technology,” Strother said.

From 2010-2012, automotive emissions systems began to evolve to meet new government standards, leading to more computerized systems that required different skills to identify problems, he said.

“We’re here working on a ’68 Mustang. I’m telling the students you know, man, it’s a dinosaur,” he said. “That’s where it all began.

Sophomore Jacob Brenem (left), 15, works with classmates at ATV in an automotive technology class at the LIFT Center on Tuesday.  This is the first year of the Abilene Independent School District's new Center for Future Technology Leadership and Innovation.

“And then we have stuff in the store that you can’t even begin to troubleshoot unless you have a high-tech scanner that you can put on it to guide you on the right track,” Strother said.

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The diagnostic steps for working on newer vehicles have evolved significantly, said Matt Parker, automotive technology instructor at the Abilene Independent School District’s LIFT Center. The facility is home to vocational and technical education programs and the Academy of Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Science (ATEMS).

“You have to be able to decipher a shop manual that tells you to do this step, and then based on your results, you move on to the next step,” Parker said.

The computerized diagnostic machine could give “five, six, eight different codes from the car’s computer,” Clement said.

The technician uses their experience and knowledge “to decipher what’s really wrong. Just plug it in and say, ‘Oh, it’s that sensor,’ and you’re on your way. and experience and the knowledge you get with education and time spent at work,” he said.

Despite the technical advances in vehicles, the job remains physically demanding.

“You have someone who is between 45 and 50 years old, and he doesn’t want to get on the floor, and the money may be good, but he may not want to roll on the floor. He may not want to not be in a bent over position for an extended period of time,” Strother said.

Kelly Williams of Innovative-IDM, an automation and repair company, hands out company literature to students at the TSTC job fair.

Competitive salaries, being in demand are the rewards of a career in automotive technology

For those who enjoy working on automobiles, well-paying jobs are waiting for you.

The five students who graduated from the last class in December at TSTC-Sweetwater are employed, earning between $15 and $22 an hour, Strother said.

“The demand will always be there,” Parker said. “It’s a career that’s not going away.”

The training needed to repair automobiles is the reason the industry has moved away from the term mechanic. Youngsters shouldn’t be discovered while pursuing their careers, Clement said.

“You might have someone say to you, ‘You don’t want to be a mechanic.’ Well, that’s not what we do. They’re technicians and they’re highly skilled and they’re very valuable,” Clement said.

Someone fresh out of a training program, who has a good work ethic and continues to learn on the job, can far exceed the published national median starting salary of $34,000 per year in as little time. only six months, Clement said.

“Technicians in our field who have a little factory training and a little experience make over $60,000 a year,” Clement said.

And, understanding the technology side of auto repairs benefits working in other areas of a dealership, from service writing to the business office to sales, Parker said.

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Training opportunities exist for automotive technicians in the Abilene area

To recruit more people into automotive technology programs, several dealerships and repair shops formed the Abilene Automotive Education Alliance in 2017 with Abilene ISD, Cisco College, and TSTC.

The alliance is a way to support local and regional training programs and expose high school students to careers in the automotive industry, said Clement, who is a member of the alliance.

Abilene ISD’s automotive technology program has grown in popularity since The LIFT opened in August at 2034 Quantum Loop south of Abilene Regional Airport.

Junior Erik Serrato, 17, takes a closer look at the ATV his class is working on during an automotive technology class at the LIFT Center.

About 200 students in grades nine through 12 are enrolled in the automotive technology program, more than originally planned. The increase necessitated the addition of a second instruction, said LIFT Center director Jay Ashby.

“Students enroll from this first year through automotive technology one and two through their graduate and postgraduate years, then finish with hands-on experience in a workplace or by gaining hands-on experience in our automotive shop “, said Ashby.

The Automotive Technology Shop has five work bays, classrooms, a parts and tools warehouse, equipment and industry-standard diagnostic equipment.

Students work on vehicles, which may be for dealerships or school staff, students, and parents of students.

A customer waiting area is near the auto shop, and a point-of-sale system will be installed so students in the fall can learn the business side of the industry, Ashby said.

“We’re putting in place a system for people to set aside a time, as part of our school schedule, to bring their car, and our students will be able to service those vehicles,” Ashby said.

All money raised for services goes back into the program to pay for supplies and fund student projects, such as what is needed to attend SkillsUSA events, Ashby said. SkillsUSA is a nonprofit organization that brings together students, teachers, and industry representatives to develop a skilled workforce.

In addition to 12- and 15-month training and certification programs to kick-start a career in automotive technology, TSTC-Sweetwater offers students a plan to earn an associate’s degree if they take additional courses outside of the automobile.

Cisco College’s Abilene campus also offers two- and four-semester automotive technology education programs that allow students to earn a certification or associate’s degree, according to its website.

Students chat with potential employers at the Texas State Technical College industry job fair in Abilene on Tuesday.  More than 100 students met with nearly 60 employers at the Center for Industrial Technology.

The associate degree track is an option that Strother promotes to its students. He tells them, “You’re probably going to want to move on or do something different. You may be a hiring manager. So, this associate degree can come in very handy.

Clement said he hopes the alliance between companies and training programs will help address the shortage of automotive technicians in the region.

“People in the automotive industry like a challenge. They really like a challenge. It’s just in your blood,” Clement said.

Laura Gutschke is a generalist journalist and food columnist and manages the online content of the Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to

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