SERVICE STATION ATTENDANTS

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Traditionally, the main entry level job in automotive service was service station attendant. Although the number of openings in the field is declining, attendants are still in demand. You've probably noticed many self-service islands, but recently there has been some effort to bring back the full service option. The attendant usually checks the oil, radiator coolant level, battery water, hoses, belts, and other easily accessible items for signs of wear. He or she then advises the customer of the status of everything and suggests having an item serviced, should it be found to be in less than acceptable condition.

Besides these basic services, many service stations also offer repair facilities. According to government statistics, there were about 99,000 service stations in 1999. Although about half converted to a food gas format, the majority are qualified to perform repairs. They employed 141,000 attendants. The scope of repairs may vary from facility to facility, but most offer at least minor repairs and stock replacement items like headlights, windshield wipers, batteries, tires, belts, hoses, and filters. Frequently the attendant is responsible for installing many of these parts and doing minor repair and service work like changing oil and filters, rotating tires, fixing flats, and lubrication. Most of these repairs are performed with such basic hand tools as screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. Some attendants are known as technician attendants and may use more sophisticated equipment, such as engine analyzers and wheel alignment and balancing machines.

The service station attendant also collects the money from the customer for purchases and service. The attendant may be responsible for making out charge sales slips and verifying customers' credit over the telephone for major purchases.



The attendant is usually responsible for keeping the building and grounds clean and attractive. He or she may sweep the shop and driveway, clean the rest rooms and the windows, and might also be responsible for stocking shelves, taking inventories, setting up displays, and keeping business records. At the end of the person's shift, he or she is usually responsible for taking sales readings from the gasoline pumps, recording gallons and dollar sales on the pump for his or her shift. The attendant then computes the total sales for the shift, counts the money collected, and balances the books for that shift.

Many service stations also offer emergency road services. The attendant may be responsible for driving a tow truck, boosting dead batteries, changing tires, performing other minor repairs, and towing cars to the station.

WORKING CONDITIONS

Everyone is familiar with the two basic kinds of service stations: those where mechanical repairs and service are performed and those where only motor fuels are dispensed. In both cases, the service station attendant's main duty is to serve the customer at the pump island. Most fulltime attendants work about forty to forty eight hours per week. Most service stations are open at least six days a week, and some are open every day. The majority of the stations stay open in the evenings, and some may stay open twenty four hours a day. As a result, the attendant may have a schedule that includes some evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Most of the work is outdoors. Therefore, the attendant must expect to work when the weather is sunny and mild and also when it is raining or snowing. In fact, the attendant is most vital when the weather is bad. At those times, many motorists are reluctant to use a self-service island.

The job of service station attendant is an active one. There is a lot of lifting and stooping, and much time is spent on one's feet.

The attendant greets the customer and dispenses fuel. The dispensing nozzles have an automatic shut-off device built into them. At the full service island, there is often a locking mechanism that can be engaged so that the attendant need not hold the nozzle until the tank is full. As the fuel is pumped, the attendant may check under the hood, examine the oil level and condition, and check the battery water level and hose and belt conditions at the same time. The attendant acts as a salesperson and attempts to sell a quart of oil or a replacement belt if needed. The attendant checks the tire pressures and adjusts them if necessary.

The service station attendant is at some risk of personal injury. Sharp pieces of metal are inside the engine compartment, and the engine is usually quite hot. If a hose bursts, attendants risk being scalded. Attendants do not often ask to inspect the radiator coolant level unless the engine is cold. Since the coolant is as hot as 200 to 250 degrees and under as much as eighteen pounds of pressure, removing the radiator cap can cause a geyser of hot water and steam to burst forth.

Sometimes the dipsticks for checking the oil and transmission fluid levels are in hard-to-reach places, and one can get scraped knuckles and burned hands when trying to check these items. Batteries produce explosive gases, and gasoline vapors are very volatile. Smoking or sparks from any source can result in violent explosions. The attendant needs to be very safety conscious.

On the plus side for many attendants is the opportunity to deal with a variety of people. In addition, there is the opportunity to work on cars and gain familiarity with them. Many people who start out as attendants aspire to owning or managing their own stations someday.

For the high school student, the service station business provides the easiest option for part time employment. Many stations do not offer service or mechanical repairs after normal business hours but need trustworthy and courteous employees to handle the fuel business in the evenings and on weekends. It's a way to see if you'd like a full time job.

PLACES OF EMPLOYMENT

Service stations dot the nation. Wherever there are communities and major highways, there are service stations. According to Department of Labor statistics, there were about 109,050 people working as service station attendants in 1999. About one-third of these were part time employees. According to a survey done by Super Automotive Service, there were roughly 71,000 service stations in the United States in 1987. In 1999, according to government statistics, there were 99,000 gasoline service stations. Of course, many stations have converted to a food/gas format-about 54,000, or half of the U.S. stations-so fewer mechanics/technicians are hired, but attendants are still needed. Their average wages were $7.58 an hour in 1999.

Service station attendants work in every part of the nation, from the smallest rural communities to the largest metropolitan areas from the busy, high volume downtown station to the loneliest station at a remote highway intersection.

QUALIFICATIONS

Applicants for a job as a service station attendant need to meet some basic requirements. They should have a valid driver's license, understand how an automobile works, and be familiar with the operation and location of the various items in the engine compartment. The attendant should know how to examine fluids, belts, and hoses; replace filters and wiper blades; and install oil and transmission fluid.

The service station attendant should have a neat appearance, be friendly and courteous, and like to deal with people. He or she should have a certain degree of self-confidence and be articulate enough to explain things to the customer. It is often important to be a salesperson, and confidence improves the attendant's ability to do so.

The applicant should have good arithmetic skills. The person should be trustworthy and honest. More and more, owners and managers make use of tests to determine the applicant's honesty, since an attendant is responsible for large sums of money.

Most employers prefer high school graduates but will often hire students for part time employment. A high school education is usually required to take advantage of the management training programs offered by many of the major oil companies.

TRAINING

Most service station attendants receive their training on the job. There are some formal training programs.

Many high schools offer formal training in service station work. For the part time person, this is the best place to start. Some schools offer a work study program and will assist in placing the student in a service station. The student may earn scholastic credit for time spent at the service station. The program usually consists of several basic business education and automotive courses. Students usually receive instruction in service station operation in the classroom and put it into practice at the job site.

Some of the major oil companies offer formal training programs. These programs usually take from two to eight weeks to complete. The student is taught simple automotive service and maintenance as well as marketing and business management. Emphasis is usually placed on selling techniques and customer relations. The trainee learns how to take inventory and control the flow of production. He or she also is taught how to order products and display them and how to make sales.

ADVANCEMENT

A multitude of avenues will open to the person who begins as a service station attendant. Once the entry level attendant becomes familiar with the automobile, he or she may seek training in becoming an automotive technician or mechanic. Most service station mechanics getting formal training go on to work at automobile dealerships or independent garages, or they return to the service station industry to work as full time technicians.

Those whose talents lean more toward management may eventually become night managers or full time managers of their own stations. Others may be able to find jobs as service managers or service advisers at automobile dealerships.

Some service stations are owned privately, while others are leased from oil companies. Today there is a shift toward ownership rather than leasing. For some of those who lease, the oil company may eventually be the source of jobs as sales representatives or district managers.

EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK

Overall employment in the service station industry is expected to remain steady or show a slight decline through the next decade. Projections call for about 139,000 attendants nationwide in 2008, a slight drop from current levels. This is primarily due to an anticipated leveling off of gasoline consumption. Although the public has been driving more, vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient. Another factor is the rise in the number of strictly self-serve facilities that are nothing more than stores that sell fuel and, frequently, convenience food items. Some industry analysts point out that full service station attrition may have peaked and the service station universe has stabilized.

In any event, the employment outlook is still quite good. Since the service station industry is such a large one, thousands of job openings will become available every year, mostly because former attendants move on to other occupations.

Usually the best way to get more information about becoming a service station attendant is to go directly to a few stations in your area and talk with the manager or other attendants. You may wish to discuss job possibilities with your school guidance counselor or shop instructor. The local state employment service also can be of assistance.
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