Persistence in the face of doubt

April 10, 2023
This tech proved her doubters wrong and hopes she can inspire other young individuals to take on the challenge of becoming a master technician like her.

PTEN and Motor Age magazines have teamed up with TechForce Foundation to help spotlight some amazing women in the automotive industry in hopes we can inspire more individuals to pursue careers as automotive technicians.

Before becoming a technician, Nelly Colon knew she wanted a career that would make her more self-sufficient, and when the price tag for all the troubles she was having with her car grew too high, she figured, “Why not learn how to fix it myself?”

That was 11 years ago, and Colon’s never looked back. As a Nissan Master Technician with electric vehicle, diesel, and GT-R certifications, Colon has reached the highest level of Nissan certifications available. She notes that becoming a Nissan Master Technician was one of her biggest achievements. Moving forward, she plans to just keep up with certifications as new models come out and attend training events to keep up with new technologies.

Life as a tech

Though Colon has met her career goals and is working her dream job, that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth sailing getting to this point. Unfortunately, being a woman in this industry is still rather uncommon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2022, only 12.1 percent of workers in the automotive industry are women. In Colon’s case, she notes that she’s had some mixed reactions to her being a female technician.

“Some think it's the best thing in the world, or they just don't trust it at all,” Colon says. “When I first started out, I had some customers say, ‘I don't want you touching my car’, or ‘I don't know if that's a good idea. Do you know what you're doing?’ ‘How long have you been doing this?’ and stuff like that, so I've definitely had some doubters.”

Regardless of some customers’ negative reactions though, Colon persevered.

“I’m very persistent,” she says, “and when people tell me that I can't do something, it just makes me work that much harder to prove them wrong.”

Colon has worked hard to earn the respect she deserves, and luckily her co-workers have recognized this as well. When customers start to get doubtful, they have her back, noting that ‘she is one of the best technicians in the shop’ and ‘you’ll be lucky if she touches your car.’

Although she’s faced some doubters due to being a female in the industry, Colon notes that her presence has also assured many female customers.

“They see me working on their car, and they're like, ‘Oh, wow! That's great.’ And because I'm a female, they feel like they can trust me more. I have a lot of good relationships with female customers who have actually followed me around to different shops. If I leave a job, they'll contact me and say, ‘Hey, where are you?’ or I've had some call my dealership and say, ‘Hey, does she work here?’ I definitely have some customers who have followed me around, which is nice.”

A changing industry

During her time as a technician, Colon has seen some major changes in the automotive industry. Two major changes she notes are the demand for technicians and the shift from more mechanical work to more electrical/diagnostic work.

When she first started as a technician, Colon says there wasn’t as great of a demand for techs, but now there’s a technician shortage. Though many factors have contributed to this shortage, Colon notes pay as one of the main factors.

With the updated technology in today’s vehicles, many repair jobs are only getting more complicated to do, and unfortunately, the pay is not reflecting that.

“Every job that you do has a certain labor time to it,” Colon says. “For example, if I do a tie rod replacement, it pays half an hour. Whether it takes me half an hour or an hour to do it, I only get paid half an hour to do the job.”

Colon also sees the generational gap between the technicians who have been in the industry for 20-30 years and the younger techs just entering the workforce.

“A lot of older techs are used to working on carburetor engines and spark, plug cables, [but] you don't have that stuff anymore,” she says. “Everything is wiring and electrical…and so heavy into computer diagnostics. I've been seeing a lot of technicians who have been doing this for 20-30 years, who are struggling to keep up with the changes and the technology updates.”

On the other hand, from what Colon has seen of the younger generation entering the industry, they’re extremely tech-savvy and have a much easier time handling scan tools and computers when doing repairs on newer vehicles.

A more welcoming environment

Though much has changed over the years in the way technicians repair vehicles, there’s still more work to do in changing the environment where those vehicles are repaired, especially when it comes to being more welcoming to women.

Colon remarks that of all the shops she’s worked in, only one has had a female locker room for her to change in. Though a small thing, she notes that something as simple as this would “make a world of difference” when it comes to making women feel more accepted in this industry.

Her current shop is pretty small, so they don’t have a locker room, just a unisex bathroom. However, in the past, she’s had to share a locker room with the men she worked with, meaning she’d have to wait until they were done before she could go change or just arrive and leave wearing her uniform. Leaving in her uniform meant getting in her vehicle and going home in grungy clothes, which is not the ideal situation.

Additionally, in terms of her uniform, she mentions that initially, she couldn’t get the pants and shirts in the appropriate size for her. Colon was wearing a size small when she really needed an extra small. The slack in her uniform was a hazard on the job, so she wound up getting the shirts resized. Once the extra small size was available, she made sure to immediately request new shirts because she notes, “The last thing I want is to get caught on something and my shirt get ripped off.”

Though these inconveniences don’t make or break being a technician for Colon, she knows simple things like this could help encourage more women to join the automotive field.

Words of wisdom

One of Colon’s goals as an automotive technician is to inspire other young individuals who may be intimidated by this career path to just go for it.

“If you really enjoy it, don't stop doing it, and don't let anyone tell you you can't do something because I truly believe if you put your mind into something, you're determined, and you really want it, then you will accomplish it,” Colon advises. “There's always gonna be some struggle. There's always gonna be some kind of resistance, but at the end of the day, I think it just comes down to how badly you want something and how much you enjoy it. Do what you love, and it really is rewarding.”

About the Author

Emily Markham | Editor | PTEN and Professional Distributor

Emily Markham is the editor of  Professional Tool & Equipment News (PTEN) and Professional Distributor magazines. These publications are part of the Endeavor Business Media Vehicle Repair Group.

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