Hammett, 27, said the dealership’s social media videos appear to be hitting their mark. “That’s brought in a lot more interest into the trades. It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never seen a woman doing this, especially online.’ ”
The industry, said Zanchin, is facing a chronic shortage of qualified workers and tapping into the female labour pool can help.
“I think we’re just trying to promote more people into the tech world,” she said. “That helps the bottom line.
While the pandemic has hampered in-person contact, Zanchin says partnering with high schools and speaking with students about the benefits of a career as a technician can be effective. She also reaches out to friends and acquaintances who are teachers, guidance counsellors and vice-principals, stressing the need to encourage students to “go into the car business and be a technician, a mechanic.”
Post-secondary institutions are starting to respond to the need for more female auto technicians, said Jeff Murrell, associate dean at Ontario’s Niagara College. In 2019, the school launched “The Women in Skilled Trades – Automotive Service Technician.” The impetus for the program came from local dealers, said Murrell.
“We know that women currently make up a very small percentage of the workforce in the automotive service sector, yet they present one of the industry’s greatest opportunities for growth.”
On Prince Edward Island, Mitsubishi dealer principal Tammy Roach has attended regular businesswomen’s meetings and luncheons, spreading the word about the opportunities in automotive, especially the skilled trades.
“We need to change hiring practices. We need to look harder [for female candidates],” said Roach, who has a female detailer/apprentice technician on staff at her store.
“We need to educate people that women can work in automotive and how lucrative these jobs can be,” said Roach. “And we need to make an environment for them that’s comfortable and breed teams that are open to all genders working together.”
Zanchin said regular communication with female technicians is critical.
“We take the time to talk to them whenever we can and encourage them: ‘How are you doing, I hear you did your first transmission, good job.’
And if there’s a problem, employees are encouraged to speak out, she said. “I try to convey to them, if there’s an issue, talk to your service manager about it. You don’t let issues fester.”
For Katie Beazely, words of support came on her first day as an apprentice technician at Audi Halifax, which is part of the Steele Auto Group. The company has 55 dealerships in Atlantic Canada and Texas, according to its website.
“My shop foreman said, ‘I’ve been doing this for 25-plus years, and I have not once ever worked with a woman ... I’m going to do everything in my power to help you. We’re going to work together.’ ”
From that moment, “it’s been like a family here,” said Beazely, who has worked at the dealership since December.
She also credits Steele Auto Group’s outreach efforts with giving her the confidence to apply at the dealership while she was enrolled at the automotive service and repair technician program at Nova Scotia Community College in Halifax.
Robyn Burgess, the group’s talent acquisition specialist, encouraged the students “to get work experience at their dealerships,” Beazley, 22, recalled.
“If it wasn’t for [Burgess] coming out and speaking with me, I probably never would have had the guts to go and apply ... that was the turning point for me.”
As well as featuring women, recruitment campaigns must depict automotive repair as a career that has evolved from one that relies less on brute strength and more on diagnostic and computer skills, she said. Advertisements “make it sound like for the whole trade you have to be a big, strong enormous man to be able to do it. But that’s not the case. I’m 5’3 and 120 pounds. I’m small and I’m making out just fine.”
And women customers appreciate dealing with a female technician, said Hammett of Maple Hyundai.
“I’ve had a couple of women come up to me and tell me, ‘I feel a lot more comfortable knowing you’re working on my car.’ ... They feel a sense of comfort and way more relaxed knowing there’s a woman helping out. If I can provide that, I feel great.”