What's it really like?
Andy Ellershaw is 26 and works as a mechanic for Atkinson Vos, a family-run firm in Lancashire. He gives us the inside story…I started training as a mechanic after I left secondary school and have worked as a qualified mechanic for the last seven or eight years. Working as a mechanic each day is very varied as I deal with any problems that people have with their cars, right down to their tyres and exhausts. My typical day includes a mixture of general mechanical tasks and more specialist jobs including service work, MOT preparation and testing, rebuilding engines and gearboxes, fitting new clutches, springs and brakes and dealing with fuel problems.
As a mechanic I like the lack of repetition that comes with the job. I enjoy testing and figuring out what has happened when vehicles throw up a new problem, eliminating each part until only the faulty part is left. I don’t really like doing breakdown work as night call outs can be a real hassle. It is also difficult when manufacturers put a time limit on the job: I don’t like feeling under pressure to get things done.
Anyone thinking of becoming a mechanic must have patience, logical thinking for finding faults, the ability to take things to bits and a good memory to put them back together again. Anyone can dismantle a vehicle but it takes a mechanic to put it back together correctly. I am not sure that I will ever move on to another job as I really like the role I am in. One day I may progress to the role of service manager which would mean I would control the day to day running of the workshop and talk with customers once the job has been done. A key tip I would give to prospective mechanics is to go out to garages and ask if there is any work going. Not a lot of firms advertise jobs but tend to give work to mechanics who come to them.
Vehicle Technicians/ Mechanics specialise in the service and repair of vehicles.
Vehicle Technicians/ Mechanics work on the maintenance and repair of all aspects of motor vehicles, performing preventative and restorative work on the engine, electrics, brakes, gears, fuel pump, exhaust system, security features and air conditioning. They also carry out the routine servicing of vehicles, advising customers on the condition of their vehicle and test new vehicles for mechanical faults.
Trainee mechanics usually start on a salary of £7,000 - £11,000 depending on their age and experience. Qualified mechanics typically earn between £13,000 and £20,000 a year with the potential of progressing to £26,000 with experience.
Responsibilities vary, depending on the type of vehicle and the work required but typically they include:
- Preparing for and carrying out MOT tests
- Assessing the condition of a vehicle in between required MOTs
- Identifying mechanical faults in a vehicle's brakes, engine, gears or electrics etc.
- Fitting clutches, springs and brakes
- Testing new vehicles to identify any faults in the mechanics
- Rebuilding engines and gearboxes
- Converting engines to liquid petroleum gas
- Ordering and tuning parts
- Fitting radios and other internal features
- Customising vehicles to the owner’s specifications
- Advising owners on vehicle condition and cost of repairs
- Dealing with fuel problems
- Repairing and fitting tyres
- Servicing and repairing vehicles which have broken down
In general, trainee vehicle technician/ mechanics are not required to have specific academic qualifications before they begin training, but employers will usually ask for good GCSEs in maths, science, technology and English. Mechanics may agree to train prospective employees without any GCSEs as long as they are able to demonstrate a head for science and engineering and good practical abilities. Most trainee vehicle technicians/ mechanics undertake an apprenticeship with a qualified employer, although these tend to be limited to school leavers and those aged 25 or under. Apprenticeships involve part practical experience and part theoretical training and usually incorporate a City & Guilds or BTEC certificate in a relevant subject. As an alternative to undertaking an apprenticeship, trainee mechanics can take a course in automotive engineering, such as a City & Guilds Certificate in Vehicle Maintenance and Repair or a BTEC National Certificate in Vehicle Repair and Technology which are offered by a wide range of colleges and education institutions across the country.
Vehicle Technicians/ Mechanics are required to have:
- An excellent knowledge of motor technology
- Good communication skills
- The ability to listen to and follow instructions
- Excellent practical skills
- The ability to solve problems
- A willingness to work as part of a team
- The ability to concentrate for long periods of time
- A reasonable level of fitness
- Good manual dexterity
- Close attention to detail
- Normal colour vision
- The ability to work independently and use own initiative
- A commitment to the industry and an up-to-date knowledge of issues relating to mechanics
- An awareness of health and safety regulations
- An enthusiasm for cars and other motor vehicles
- A flexible approach to the job
Most vehicle technicians/ mechanics work around 40 hours a week from Monday – Friday but it is also common to work at the weekends. Depending on the nature of the company worked for, shift-work may be required, usually on a rota basis, and many mechanics commonly work through the night, particularly those working for heavy vehicle garages. Other businesses such as breakdown services offer an on-call system which requires mechanics to work at short notice at any time of the day or night. Working with vehicle mechanics can be physically demanding and requires employees to handle heavy and sometimes dangerous parts, although with the appropriate training in health and safety regulations the risk is kept to a minimum. The work involved is usually quite messy although most businesses work hard to ensure the garage or other working area is kept clean and tidy.
Relevant experience is vital for getting a job as a vehicle technician/ mechanic. A practical work placement is tied into apprenticeships and most relevant qualifications, but it may be useful to undertake some work experience at a mechanics' firm or garage, in order to get a feel for what is involved in the job. Experience working in any practical or technological capacity will also be viewed favourably by potential employers.
There is currently a high demand for vehicle technicians/ mechanics in the UK so there are plenty of job opportunities for newly qualified or trainee employees. Major employers are garages and service centres but there are also good job opportunities with transport and construction companies, breakdown services, taxi companies and car dealerships. Unlike most industries, however, mechanic jobs are not always widely advertised so it may be worth enquiring personally with a firm to see if there is work going. As an alternative to working for an employer, many mechanics choose to set up on their own which can be a much more lucrative way of working, although it is useful to work for someone else initially, to gain experience, contacts and a knowledge of the way a mechanics-related business works.
There are plenty of opportunities for vehicle technicians/ mechanics to progress in their career. Most mechanics carry out further on-the-job training once they have taken their initial qualifications, typically in the form of an NVQ (levels 1 – 3) in a related subject such as Vehicle Maintenance and Repair, Vehicle Fitting Operations, Vehicle Body and Paint Operations and Roadside Assistance and Recovery. With suitable experience mechanics can complete a City & Guilds Certificate in Advanced Automotive Diagnostic Techniques which gives mechanics the qualifications necessary to run their own business or work in a more supervisory role, overseeing the day-to-day running of a firm and communicating information to customers about the work that has been done. Vehicle Technicians/ Mechanics may also opt to take training in a more specific area of mechanics such as MOT testing, Air-Conditioning or LPG Conversions which allows them to progress to the role of a specialist Vehicle Technician/ Mechanic. Additionally all those working in the motor industry can take part in a voluntary trainee programme run by the Institute of Motor Industry, which provides vehicle technicians/ mechanics with automotive accreditation, designed to improve their career prospects.