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Jennifer Eklund Women in Automotive Technology Automotive Tech Program

Women's Success Stories

Susie Chivers


Age 46, Caucasian
Auto Mechanic
Employed by: Allmotive, Campbell, California

"If you're thinking of going into the auto trade, get as much training as you can. Never stop learning. Any woman can do this. You don't have to be physically strong, there are lots of tools you can use to lift things that are too heavy."

Career Quick Look
Salary: $35K - $50K Education:
Years in Field: 27 years Evergreen Valley College
Attended automotive program and is just 1-2 classes short of her A.A. degree.
City/State: San Jose, California  

Getting Started: During college, Susie Chivers held down a job at Thrifty's, serving ice cream to help pay for tuition and books. When she scored unusually high on the automotive section of an aptitude test, she was inspired to go into auto technology. "I thought, heck, why not? That sounds like fun. My mom was a bit appalled; she was like, 'oooh, my little girl's going to be a car mechanic?' It took her a little while to get used to this thought, but she's proud of me now."

Susie began to take automotive courses at Evergreen Valley College. Salary was not a factor in her decision to enter auto technology. "It is good money, don't get me wrong, but I mainly wanted to find something I could stick with for a long time. I had high expectations for myself."

While she was a student at Evergreen Valley, one of her teachers, Stock Cortez, introduced a group of students to the shop foreman at Montgomery Ward's auto center. She impressed the foreman enough with her answers to his questions about a car undergoing repairs that he hired her as a battery technician. She's grateful for this boost from her teacher. "If it weren't for him, I don't know if I would have gone in on my own and said 'I'd like a job here.'" Susie worked her way up the ranks at Montgomery Ward from 1981 to 1996, earning several Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications along the way.

During this time she married and gave birth to two sons. "I probably was the only automotive technician who took maternity leave at Montgomery Ward, two times. They were very accommodating. I did as much as I could and of course didn't lift anything, but I did get stuck inside a car one time, a little Pontiac Fiero. The guys had to take the top of the car off and haul me out. They were laughing hysterically because my stomach got stuck behind the steering wheel," says Susie. By the time she left Montgomery Ward, she had advanced to become a back shop technician doing engine diagnostics and repairs.

She then worked for two years at Made in Japan/Made in USA before moving to her current job at Allmotive in Campbell, where she has worked as a technician for the past ten years in a small two-person shop.

Education: After high school, Susie entered the automotive program at Evergreen Valley College. "They have a terrific program. It's changed quite a bit since I was there, it's gotten better if anything," says Susie, who is still in touch with one of her teachers, Stock Cortez, who is now retired, but who served as her mentor during her studies there. "Stock was an awesome teacher. He likes to engage students to use their brains. It's one thing if you've learned how to rebuild an engine in a book, but it's quite another thing when you're staring at it saying 'what am I supposed to do next?'" Although she left college a couple classes short of her A.A. degree, she found the combination of book learning and hands-on experience in her automotive classes prepared her very well for her career as a technician.

Susie understands the need to stay current, and continues to find opportunities to learn. "There are always resources at hand, especially in today's industry where cars are so complicated. We have All Data, which is an online subscription that we use. There are service manuals on CD that we use a lot. And I belong to IATN, the International Automotive Technicians' Network." She also attends evening classes taught by local experts and sponsored by her employer and its affiliated parts store, Winchester Auto.

Although Susie has learned many new skills in her years as a technician, she would like to someday return to Evergreen to take a class in transmission rebuilding, a job which her shop does not perform. She knows the hands-on experience would help her pass the eighth and last ASE test she needs to become certified as a master mechanic.

Greatest Professional Achievement: Susie identifies her approach to customer service as her most significant accomplishment. "I take good care of my customers. That's the highest priority for me: to make sure the customers feel comfortable, and to make sure they understand what they are authorizing repairs for. I'm able to communicate that really well."

"There's a lot of misunderstanding in the industry. People consider mechanics a rip-off. I'm sure there are some bad guys out there, but by and large we're honest people. I think a lot of the problem is that it's not communicated correctly," she says. Susie gives customers both the best case and worst case scenarios so there are no unpleasant surprises. "I'd much rather have you come in and have it be $1000 less than have to call you four or five times to get the job done correctly."

Barriers: Although she did not experience barriers to learning while at Evergreen, she still occasionally has customers of both genders who question her knowledge. They say, "What can you possibly know about a car?" She doesn't take this personally, and gives them the choice of waiting for her boss or hearing what she has to say about their car. "Some respond well to it and take the time to listen," Susie says of her matter-of-fact approach, "and others just don't want any part of me. That's OK." She understands that some customers are new to working with a woman.

Working with Men: During her classes at Evergreen, Susie says that men and women were treated the same. She has almost always been the only woman technician in her classes and on the job, but this has not been a problem for her. "Don't let gender limit you as to what you can do," says Susie to others considering a career in a male-dominated field.

Advice for Women: Susie advises women entering the program to take as many automotive classes as possible. "If you're thinking of going into the auto trade, get as much training as you can. Never stop learning. Any woman can do this. You don't have to be physically strong, there are lots of tools you can use to lift things that are too heavy."

Typical Workday/Environment: Susie describes her role at the Allmotive car repair shop as one of "chief cook and bottle washer," since she performs both administrative and car repair tasks. When she arrives in the morning, she checks to see which cars are scheduled, then coordinates the flow of the work throughout the day, making sure that short jobs get taken care of first and managing the priority of cars that require time on the rack.

When the customers arrive with their cars, she listens to the customer's complaints, diagnoses the problem, assesses what it will take to fix the problem, creates a work order, makes a list of parts required, and prices the job. Then, she calls the customer for permission to proceed. Once permission is granted, she orders the parts, does the repairs, and makes sure the problem has been resolved by taking the car on a test drive. She also does banking and other administrative tasks for the owner. She wears a uniform shirt and pants on the job.

Career Ladder: Susie's salary has increased from about $35K when she started out in the industry 27 years ago to $50K at her current job. Since Allmotive is a small, two-person shop, the benefits and career ladder in her current position are limited, but she finds many advantages to working in a small shop. Her employer pays for her uniforms and their upkeep, and also allows her to work on her personal vehicle in the shop - larger shops often require that you pay the company for a co-worker to fix your vehicle. She does not have to punch a time clock or deal with the politics of a larger shop, and she gets to know her regular customers on a first-name basis, since she also writes up the work orders.

Susie's weekday hours allow her to spend weekends with her family, and her employer supports her when she needs to take time off for special occasions or family emergencies. She sees that a logical career move might be to open her own shop, but she is learning a lot and really enjoying her current position at present. However, her 21-year old son is currently studying automotive technology at Evergreen, and she says "If my son decides to get into it, I might open a shop."

Professional Associations: Susie belongs to the International Automotive Technicians' Network, which offers an online forum for member auto repair professionals to pose questions about sticky repair problems and receive input from colleagues.

Hobbies: When she's not working, Susie sells Avon products. Because she works in a mostly male environment and lives with her husband and two sons, Avon helps her stay in touch with her female friends. She also spends time playing on the computer, and recently enjoyed taking a watercolor pencil art class.


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