Automotive Apprentice - What Does It Pay?

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Most beginners start working at the minimum wage. A classic example is the high school student who works after school at the local service station. He or she may do more chores around the station than automotive service, but those are the dues one has to pay. Few people begin climbing the ladder of success in the middle. Although the chores are important, the greater advantage is the opportunity to observe and learn shop practices and become familiar with the environment of the auto repair shop. This experience, coupled with the minimum wage, is how you pay your dues.

The automotive apprentice also may start at close to the minimum wage, but the advantage is that he or she will be learning actual repair and service techniques. Once the apprentice has passed the probationary period, raises will come. After the first six months of training, the apprentice makes 55 percent of the journeyman's wage at the end of the four year apprenticeship program, he or she is making almost 75 percent of what the journeyman earns.

The sky is the limit for the top-notch technician. Once he or she has achieved journeyman status, most of the work performed is paid on a flat rate basis that is, each job function is assigned a certain amount of time in which it should be done. Motor Service magazine recently found in an informal survey that about 60 percent of shops used the flat rate system, while 40 percent paid on a salary and bonus basis. The flat rate evolved as an incentive to productivity. If the technician is able to complete the job in less time than allocated, he or she is still paid for the full amount. For example, the flat rate schedule for replacing the water pump on a certain engine may provide for 2.3 hours of labor time. If the technician does the job in 2.0 hours, he or she is still paid 2.3 hours' worth of wages for that job. For the exceptional technician it is not uncommon to complete every job in less time than the book stipulates. If the technician can do ten hours' worth of work in eight hours, he or she is paid for ten hours' worth of work.

The flat rate schedule is both a benefit and a problem. If the technician runs into a problem that delays the job, he or she still only gets paid for the given time. Take four hours to do a two-hour job, and all you will get paid for is two hours' worth of work. Flat rate schedules, however, are usually the average time a job should take, and the technician should seldom lose out.

The flat rate schedule also benefits the customer. Based on the time allowances, the service manager or service adviser can estimate the customer's bill quite accurately before the work is performed.

Almost all technicians meet or beat the flat rate times. A technician who consistently comes in over the time will not last too long in that shop. He or she will either get disgusted, and leave or the supervisor will replace him or her with someone who is more efficient. In 1999, the top 10 percent of U.S. auto technicians earned an average hourly wage of $22.17. Average wages for all auto technicians were almost $14.00 an hour. With computer diagnostic skills, technicians can earn between $30,000 and $75,000 annually. The AYES program surveyed its national network of dealers and found the high end of salaries had topped $105,000 a year.

Service Station Attendant

As mentioned earlier, the position of service station attendant is an entry-level one. The range of earnings can cover quite a spread, and wages vary from place to place in the country. According to the Career Information Center, the service station attendant earns minimum wage salaries, or less, to start. It is common for attendants to be paid a commission on top of their hourly wage as an incentive and reward for sales ability. Some service station owners or managers devise unique incentive programs for their employees that may help to supplement their wages.

Automotive Service Adviser

Automobile service advisers are paid an hourly wage that is usually one third higher than the average for all nonsupervisory workers employed in private industry. Many service advisers are paid an extra amount in the form of commissions. They usually receive a percentage of the cost of all repairs and accessories that the customer pays for. Some service advisers are paid on a straight commission basis. This is quite common for those who are employed by mass merchandisers and department stores that offer automotive service. In order to make good money in this kind of business, the person employed as a service adviser must have excellent sales ability.

Automotive Parts Specialist

The typical automotive parts specialist works forty to forty eight hours a week. Although some workers work a basic nine to five job, many more will end up with shifts where they will work some evenings and weekends to accommodate their customers.

Usually parts specialists are paid hourly wages starting at minimum wage for the many part-timers in this field, although some are salaried and others earn commissions. The parts specialist at automobile dealerships usually gets a commission based on the volume of parts and service work performed by the technicians. Outside salespeople are frequently paid a commission, and sometimes they get bonuses if they land a new account. The best career opportunities are in management of a parts store, either wholesale or retail.

Automobile Body Repairer

As with most craft professions, the earnings of the automobile body repair person are quite good, about one and three fourths times the average for persons employed in private industry that do not have management positions. The highly skilled body repairer may expect to earn as much as 30 to 60 percent more than what an unskilled helper or trainee makes. Yearly earnings can be in the range of $25,000 to $50,000, according to estimates from the Automotive Service Association (ASA).

If the body repair specialist works for an automobile dealer, he or she is usually paid a commission. In this way the earnings depend on the amount of work there is and how fast the repair person can get it done. Commissioned workers are usually given a promised salary or wage, but it is usually much lower than he or she can expect to make in an average week.

Helpers, trainees, and apprentices are usually paid by the hour until they become proficient enough to work on a commission basis. Those who work for private fleets are usually paid an hourly wage rather than a commission, since there is no retail trade through the shop. The average workweek is forty to forty-eight hours, with very few weekend or evening hours in the schedule.

Automobile Painter

Based on a survey of painters working in the thirty-six large metropolitan U.S. cities, the average hourly earnings were $13.57 per hour. This compares quite favorably to other nonsupervisory workers in private industry. Of course, beginners and inexperienced workers and apprentices earn considerably less. The more experienced the person is, the better his or her wages are. ASA estimated the annual salary range as $25,000 to $50,000.

Many of the painters working for automobile dealerships are paid a commission similar to that paid to body repair persons. Earnings on the commission basis depend to a great extent on the amount of work done and how fast the person performs the work. This system is often a disadvantage to a slow or less-skilled and inexperienced person. For the experienced worker, however, it provides an opportunity for a very handsome income. Often a weekly salary is guaranteed, but it is usually minimal.

Trainees and helpers are usually paid on an hourly basis until they become proficient and sufficiently skilled to switch to the commission plan. Automobile painters are often employed by larger fleets, such as taxi companies, delivery firms, and trucking companies. Trucking companies, bus lines, and taxi companies that maintain their own staff of mechanics and painters usually pay their employees an hourly wage or salary.
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