This article is part of an ongoing series to highlight and promote the technician career — demonstrating to kids, parents, and teachers how becoming a technician is a rewarding career path that can be lucrative and open the door to many opportunities within the industry. Are you a technician who would like to be spotlighted? Sign up!
Name: Jill T.
Location: Oakland, CA
Job Title: Vice President/GM, Industry, Sales, and Certification at RepairPal
Industry Experience: 31 Years
Technician Spotlight: Jill T.
How did you get started in the automotive industry?
I have a degree in recreational therapy, which has nothing to do with cars. I had a Volkswagen Bug that kept breaking down. I have an uncle who owned two repair shops attached to gas stations. As I was growing up, we would go down to visit him and hang out at his shop. My uncle always told me if he had to fix a car for me, he had to charge me for it. He bought me a guide for Volkswagen repairs, and it was great. He would help me fix it, and that’s how I got interested in automotive. I started working at an adult psychiatric/geriatric unit, but didn’t love it. I was watching an ad on tv one night and it said, “You too can become an automotive technician.” I signed up and did an 18 month program in nine months. I started out as a technician for a few years. I met a woman in the bay area who was pretty well-known at the time. She was a female shop owner, and stopped by the shop I was working at. She saw me working and said, “Hey, you should come and talk with me.” I worked for her for a while, and then decided I needed more experience. I took a job with General Motors writing service instead of being a technician. While at General Motors, I met a woman who was opening a women-owned shop. I worked for her as a contractor for a period of time. I helped put the shop together, hire technicians, workflows, and put the systems in place. The business partnership fell apart. I had to prioritize my health over business, so I left. I was sick of the industry, and decided to take my skills and join a rental car company as a fleet director. I accepted the job, but I wasn’t super excited. I was looking on Craigslist one day and saw an ad that said, “Are you an automotive technician who wants to do something different?” I applied, and it was RepairPal. At the time, I had 20 years experience in the field, and they needed somebody to scale their network. I’ve done that successfully for the last nine years at RepairPal. I still maintain my ASEs and stay up-to-date on training. It’s been a great journey. If you would have said I’d be working for a tech company, I would never have imagined an opportunity like this even existed.
What was your favorite part of being a technician?
I like to help people. People still call me all the time, and ask me for advice on their car. I like talking about repairs. I did most of our press for radio stations, magazines, and consumer reports on how to find a good shop and navigate repairs. I like being able to leverage my knowledge to help people.
What do you wish more people, especially high schools, knew about the profession?
It is a viable profession. It’s not your grease monkey, get dirty industry anymore. You have to have high level skills, and understand electrical and programming. Including ADAS, there is so much to learn. It’s very technical, and it has to be precise. We should be attracting high school and college students because of how technical the industry is. I don’t think people realize because the industry still has the reputation of being dirty and something you do when you can’t do other things. You have to have attention to detail. If you hone your skills, you’ll make as much as someone who is doing a programming job.
What can schools do to better prepare young technicians?
Have auto shops back in the schools. They usually are not funded or are doing things in a very antiquated way. They don’t have the resources or, quite honestly, the technical knowledge to present the field to students. The equipment is outdated, and they’re doing the grease monkey part of the job, not the technician part. If we want to grow technicians, there needs to be an investment at the high school level. We need to be building new technicians for computerized cars. It’s only going to go that direction as things get more autonomous. Electric cars have so many less moving pieces. The car is a rolling computer with an electric motor, and electric motors last a long time. Being able to dig into the computer systems in the cars and make those repairs is where a lot is going to happen. We need people that can do those high level repairs.
If you knew a kid that wanted to go into the industry, but his/ her parents or teachers were telling them to go to a four-year college, what would you tell the parents?
When I told my dad I was going to trade school, he was very angry about it. He said, “They’ll never accept you in that industry. Girls don’t do that.” I did. I’ve found success in the industry, and it wasn’t always easy. If you like to work with your hands and if you don’t like sitting at a desk, then this is an incredible field to get into. When you work on a car, solve a problem, and a car leaves better, that’s a great sense of satisfaction. You’ve also done something good for someone who really relies on a car.
What advice would you give to someone who is joining this industry?
You have to make sure you are up-to-date on higher level skills. You’ll do brakes and suspension, but make sure to learn about the emission systems, programming, and autonomous vehicles. They’re hiring a lot of entry-level people because the knowledge is pretty limited. They’ll bring people in who have a good baseline knowledge and get them up to speed on the new technology. It is pretty lucrative, if you keep working and honing in on your skills.
What advice do you want to give women in the industry?
It’s a fun industry. You can look at being a woman in the industry as a disadvantage, but for me it’s a big advantage. If I’m standing in a room with 10 guys, who are they going to remember? They remember me. I walk into rooms of men all the time, and I stick out. It’s fine because people remember me, and they know my name. That works to your advantage sometimes. If you like working with your hands, have a good attitude, and retain information, it’s a great field. It’s really opening more and more to women. There’s not a better industry than this.
Also, find a tribe of other women. I have a really strong tribe of women surrounding me. When there’s opportunities I bring up their name, and they bring up mine. When I was a technician, I sought out other women technicians. One of the things about being a woman in the field is when a gentleman walks in they’re going to assume he knows what he’s talking about. I never take for granted that is the assumption. This is why I keep up on my training, so there is no doubt I know what I am talking about.
Any final thoughts?
It’s a good field, pays well, and it will always be here. It’s turning more into a tech field than a mechanic field. It’s very technical now, and technicians are important. You’re not a greasy mechanic anymore. You are a technician who works on computers — they just happen to have wheels on them.