Interested in fixing cars for a living? We look at the steps to employment…
The automotive world needs skilled artisans – especially here in South Africa – so if you love cars and are mechanically minded, combine both your passion and your skills by becoming an automotive technician. Don’t be put off by the term “grease monkey” and any low-skill-level connotations that may be associated with this career path; modern cars have become extremely complex, with many electronic units controlling various functions, including self-diagnostics, and today’s technicians need to be as skilled in operating computer equipment as wielding a spanner. We spoke to General Motors South Africa (GMSA) to learn what it takes to join the trade.
Replacer of parts, or top technician?
There’s a public perception that modern-day technicians merely replace parts as per the instructions spat out by electronic service tools and onboard diagnostics. Gawie Engelbrecht, winner of the 2016 GMSA Top Technician Skills annual competition, disagrees: “Besides training in diagnostic techniques, technicians need to develop insight into electronic programming and systems. Not only do they need to be able to read the data, they must also understand it, otherwise they will not be able to analyse it in order to find a solution. The technician must also understand the factors leading to and influencing it to be able to troubleshoot the problem. Vehicles are becoming increasingly computerised and, as such, technicians must be able to adapt to the changing environment.”
Minimum entry requirements
Requirements differ between recognised types of qualifications from NATED (example, National Certificate Engineering N1-N3), merSETA (example, National Certificate: Automotive Repair and Maintenance) and QCTO (example, Occupational Certificate: Automotive Motor Mechanic). These are all post-school education programmes and require a minimum level of mathematical and communication literacy. A minimum age restriction of 16 years applies across the board.
The path to qualification
In order to earn the qualification certificates, you will need to complete and pass theoretical and practical examinations. Most qualifications have a maximum time frame in which it must be completed, although learners who excel may complete their certificates sooner. Generally, the path to a qualified petrol or diesel mechanic takes three to four years.
Dealerships often offer apprenticeships where new learners are given the opportunity to study while gaining actual work experience. Part of the apprenticeship will be to complete a learnership at an accredited training provider as per the new trade-test regulations that is available on the merSETA website (www.merseta.org.za)
TVET training providers
There are dedicated Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) providers that specialise in full-time courses to achieve the required technician qualifications.
How to get a job
The good news is there is a massive shortage of artisan skills in SA, including automotive technicians, and therefore a person with the relevant qualifications should easily find a job. An apprenticeship at a dealership is a great way to secure a job, as the dealership is likely to employ the successful candidates, while students who excel at TVET colleges often find that they are offered a position in advance by the industry when it becomes clear that they should pass with distinction.
merSETA is a government organisation that’s one of the 21 sector education and training authorities (SETA) promoting skills development in terms of the Skills Development Act of 1998. It accredits training centres and the material needed to become a technician. It’s therefore important for students and apprentices to ensure their training meets accreditation requirements.
Author: Nicol Louw