Becoming a Mechanic: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a mechanic? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a mechanic is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Mechanic

A mechanic can fix, repair, and build heavy machinery for industrial, commercial, or private use; because complex machinery is used across an array of industries, mechanics can enter nearly any business sector they desire. Read the following pros and cons to determine if becoming a mechanic is a good fit for you.

PROS of a Mechanic Career
Multiple specialization options (aviation, diesel, motorcycle, industrial, etc.)*
Opportunity to become a business owner*
Job opportunities are expected to be good if you have formal training*
Formal training may be obtained while still in high school*

CONS of a Mechanic Career
May require odd or extra working hours*
Requires working on complex mechanical problems that may not be easy to solve*
Safety risks are possible at all times on the job*
Competitive field (6%-9% projected job growth for most fields from 2012-2022)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description and Career Information

All mechanics focus on repairing machinery that is not working correctly or providing preventative maintenance to ensure equipment continues working properly and to keep it from breaking down. Mechanics need both technical and mechanical skills. It is becoming more common for them to need computer skills, too. In this field, you may have to check and recheck different mechanical parts, try multiple solutions and consult manuals before you can diagnose a problem and fix it.

Safety is always a priority in this field since there are multiple opportunities for serious injury on the job. Proper safety protocols must be followed and safety gear must be worn at all times to lower the risk of minor and critical injuries.

Career Paths and Specializations

There are several fields in which you can work as a mechanic. You may choose to work in an area such as automobile, diesel, aviation, marine or industrial machinery. You may further specialize and focus on a specific area, such as brake systems, air conditioning or transmission systems.

As a mechanic, you may work for a repair shop, automotive dealer, manufacturer, government organization or in your own business. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 36% of automotive service technicians and mechanics worked for repair and maintenance shops and automobile dealers in 2014 ( Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics were employed mostly by industry wholesalers, construction companies and government organizations.

However, your specialization area may greatly impact where you will find employment. In aviation, the most jobs were at major airports in 2014, according to the BLS. Industrial machinery mechanics worked mostly for manufacturing companies. Diesel mechanics, however, found work in almost every industry in 2014, according to the BLS.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, automotive service technicians were expected to see job growth of 9% from 2012-2022. Likewise, motorcycle mechanics may see average growth of about 9% - which reflects the growth of the overall mechanics industry. As demand increases for specialized mechanics, shops will often hire inexperienced workers to service less daunting equipment, such as motorcycles or automobiles. This average growth was attributed in part to the need for entry level mechanics in an under-serviced industry.

Farm equipment mechanics were expected to see a job growth of 10% from 2012-2022. Mobile heavy equipment mechanics, who work on everything except engines, were expected to have a 10% job growth the same decade. This average growth was expected to be due to use of heavy equipment in construction and growth in industries that use heavy equipment, such as mining. Farm mechanic job growth was attributed to an expected increase in population that will, in turn, increase farming and the need for farm machine maintenance and repair.

Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics were expected to experience little-to-no job growth (2%) in the 2012-2022 decade. Although air traffic is expected to increase over the coming decade, new airplanes are projected to require less maintenance and repairs.

Faster-than-average job growth was expected from 2012-2022 for industrial machinery mechanics. At 17%, the growth is attributed to an uptick in manufacturing, which will require more mechanics to service and repair machinery.

Small engine mechanics will likely see a slower-than-average growth of 6% job from 2012-2022. Because small engines now require high-tech equipment to service them, many self-employed mechanics will most likely be forced out of business over the decade. Motorboat mechanics were predicted to experience growth of 5% as watercraft engines become too complicated for home repairs.

Diesel service technicians and mechanics were expected to see a 9% job growth from 2012-2022. This average rate of growth was expected to be the result of more cross country freight shipping.

Salary Information

According to the BLS in May 2014, automotive service technicians and mechanics earned a mean annual wage of $39,980. Farm equipment mechanics and service technicians earned $37,320. The mean annual wage for mechanics dealing with mobile heavy equipment (but not engines) was $48,720.

The BLS also reported in May 2014 that the mean annual wage for aircraft mechanics and service technicians was $58,850. Industrial machinery mechanics had a reported mean annual wage of $50,440. Motorboat mechanics and service technicians earned a mean salary of $38,600.

Motorcycle mechanics earned a mean wage of $35,810 as of May 2014, according to the BLS. Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics earned a salary of $33,730. A mean wage of $45,160 was earned by bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists.

Education and Training Requirements

Generally, mechanics need to complete a formal training program. Some employers may not require formal training, allowing you to train on the job instead. In some fields, mechanics may start as trainees and work under an experienced worker until they have learned enough to work on their own. Programs at community colleges and technical schools are a popular training option, but some high schools may offer technical training that can be completed before graduation. Certification is available through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and is often preferred, if not required, by employers in many mechanic fields.

If you want to work on aircraft, you must meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. The FAA mandates that you must be at least 18, speak fluent English and have a high school diploma. According to the BLS, training on the job is not common in this field, and instead, most mechanics receive training through an FAA-approved program. Additionally, you must be a certified mechanic to work on aircraft, as mandated by FAA requirements.

Many employers are also requiring continuing education to keep employees current on new developments and technology in the field. Employers may provide training through manufacturers, or you could complete courses through a college.

In addition to training, employers look for mechanics who have skills and qualities that include:

  • Mechanical aptitude
  • Knowledge of machinery and equipment
  • Computer skills
  • Ability to read technical manuals
  • Troubleshooting and diagnosis skills
  • Good physical condition
  • Valid driver's license

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers often require the same general skills for mechanic positions, but they may also have some specific skills related to their industry or company-specific requirements. Based on job ads from March 2012, employers were seeking employees who met criteria such as the following:

  • A freight company in Missouri required potential applicants to have their own hand tools, welding skills and experience in heavy, commercial truck repair.
  • A manufacturing and packing company from Pennsylvania was looking for mechanics with 2-5 years of experience and the ability to evaluate wear on equipment.
  • A North Carolina maintenance company was looking for a mechanic with a good driving record who owned his or her own tools.

How to Stand out in the Field

Since many of the specialty fields for mechanics are expected to experience average or below-average job growth for the 2012-2022 decade, it can be helpful to determine ways in which you can stand out from the competition. The BLS noted that for most mechanic jobs, getting ahead of the competition is easy if you have strong computer skills and complete a formal training program. Additionally, economic trends seem to impact this field. For example, the restructuring of dealerships in the automotive industry may lead to fewer job openings at dealership repair shops. In the aviation industry, mechanics may find jobs at large airports are more competitive due to the fact that they often pay higher salaries than those in rural airports.

Get Certified

Certification is not typically required, but employers usually look favorably upon and may give preference to mechanics who are certified through an organization such as the ASE. The ASE offers certification options, such as parts specialist, truck equipment and advanced engine specialist ( You may also seek master certification by passing certification exams in various areas from the ASE. Becoming ASE certified requires passing a certification exam and having at least two years of experience in the field of mechanics.

Other Careers to Consider

If you don't think that you have the mechanical aptitude required for a career as a mechanic, there are other related careers for which you may be better suited. If you prefer to work with people, yet still get to work with automotive parts, you may consider working in sales at an auto parts store or dealership. For an automotive or transportation-related career where you wouldn't have much contact with people, you may want to consider a job in manufacturing.

If you like the technical aspect of a mechanic career, but don't really find yourself too interested in transportation, you may consider a career as an electrician, machinist or welder.

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