At Work / Workers Around The Region


August 31, 2005|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Sun

Alicia Strauss

Automotive technician apprentice, Saturn of Ellicott City

Age: 18

Years in business: one

Salary: $8 an hour

Typical day: During the summer, she started her day at 8 a.m. and it ended at 5 p.m., except on Tuesdays when she worked until 7 p.m. and Saturdays when she worked until 2 p.m. Strauss was teamed with an experienced technician when working on cars. The work includes inspecting automobiles to detect problems and making repairs. She works on 10 to 15 cars each day.

The technology: Strauss says the job is much more high-tech than most people think. The automobiles that come in with problems - such as a check engine light that's on - are worked on by pulling out codes that are fed into a computer. Technicians use a diagnostic approach, aided by computers, to repair (these types of) mechanical problems.

How she got started: She started working on cars when she was young with her father, a mechanic at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "I've always liked cars. So whenever he worked on cars at home I would join in. I love it, it's fun." When she was in the ninth grade she decided to go into auto mechanics as a full-time job. She began vocational training at South Carroll High School through the Automotive Youth Educational Systems, a partnership between automotive manufacturers, dealers and selected high schools. Auto technicians are in demand, and the program is designed to encourage young people to consider careers in the field. Strauss graduated from high school in June.

Next: Strauss this week started a two-year GM Automotive Service Education Program at the Community College of Baltimore County. Strauss won a scholarship from General Motors to complete a degree to become a certified auto technician, which means her salary could double. She will work at the Saturn dealership on off days.

Fitting in: Strauss said she is the only female mechanic at the Saturn dealership and was the only female in her high school program. She said she's treated well, and the guys will tone down such things as cursing when she's around. She said dirt and grime don't bother her. Heavy lifting was difficult at first, but she is getting use to it. "When I first started it was tough. I couldn't lift a tire but now I don't have any problems."

The good: "I like being able to diagnose a problem. I like to figure out what's wrong with it, especially an electrical problem. It's fun. You get to do something different every day."

The bad: The hours are long.

Favorite muscle car: 1978 Firebird Trans Am.

Favorite new car: Saturn SKY roadster, scheduled to start production in early 2006. Or a 4x4 pickup truck for snow driving.- Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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