The auto service trade is constantly evolving. Certification should be the price of entry.

By Allan Haberman

Technical Trainer/Owner ACA Training Systems

Winnipeg, Man.

It’s hard to believe that some provinces still do not require automotive service technicians to be certified.

Despite the growing complexity of modern vehicles and the potential for road carnage due to poor maintenance, some provinces, like B.C., Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, have not mandated certification for service technicians. They have deemed auto repair to be a “voluntary” trade, where a certificate of qualification is available but is not required to work in the trade.

Aspiring technicians can complete a series of tests to prove their competence… but they don’t have to. In other Canadian provinces, including P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta, auto service is a compulsory trade, meaning technicians require a certificate of qualification or registration in an apprenticeship program in order to work in the trade. This is as it should be. Unfortunately, it is not the case right across Canada.

Perhaps some provincial governments are loath to introduce any career roadblocks that would discourage people from entering a trade that already suffers from a shortage of qualified technicians. But with something as important to public safety as vehicle maintenance, is it wise to eliminate trade standards altogether? Servicing today’s vehicles requires more than a mechanical aptitude and a passion for cars.

There isn’t a system on a modern automobile that doesn’t involve some form of electronics. Even a simple oil and filter service will likely require a maintenance reminder reset procedure. Some of these resets may even require the use of a scan tool – not an easy tool to master without adequate training. Diagnosing most problems on today’s vehicles requires access to an information system with complex wiring diagrams and system operation descriptions. Without this information and the proper equipment, solving even simple problems is next to impossible. Technicians must have a working knowledge of electrical systems and electronic theory. Without this base of knowledge and above-average reading comprehension skills, diagnosing a system fault can become a guessing game.

Can we all agree that throwing parts at a problem has never been an acceptable repair procedure? This destroys consumer confidence in the repair industry.

In the United States, a voluntary testing and certification system is available through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). The general consensus is that this system, while not nearly as comprehensive as the Canadian apprenticeship program, offers consumers some assurance of technician skill. Perhaps the provinces that haven’t designated auto service as a compulsory trade should adopt this system. At the very least, a well-recognized logo would give consumers some confidence in their service providers.

Today’s technicians need to constantly upgrade their skills to keep up with the rapid change in-vehicle technology. As vehicles become more electronic than mechanical with each passing year, the people who service them will also have to change. Certification would be a good start. The time may come when automotive service is a degree program rather than a vocational one.

Perhaps that time is already here, and we just have to recognize that fact.

Allan Haberman is an automotive trainer and owner of ACA Training Systems based in Winnipeg, Man.