More Women Entering the Automotive Repair Field
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More Women Entering the Automotive Repair Field

More and more women are entering the automotive repair field. Jenny Yuen, a reporter from the Toronto Sun newspaper, profiles various female shop owners and technicians in the Toronto area.

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More and more women are entering the automotive repair field. Jenny Yuen, a reporter from the Toronto Sun newspaper, profiles various female shop owners and technicians in the Toronto area.

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Below is the article as it appeared on the Toronto Sun website.

Garage gals hard at work

By JENNY YUEN, Toronto Sun
Last Updated: May 16, 2010 8:30pm

Blackened by oil and grease, they’re wearing baggy overalls with dirty rags in their pockets.

The radio blasts Chemical Brothers as a drill punches bolts into place under the hood of a beat up white Ford Taurus. You can hear the occasional cuss word float across the garage.

In an unfeminine setting as one might imagine, car repair is women’s work. At Ms. Lube By Mechanchik, at Bathurst and College Sts., females don’t belong in the kitchen — they belong in the garage.
jessica gilbank, owns and operates ms. lube by mechanchik. she poses through the door of a modified vintage ford pick-up truck. (jack boland/toronto sun)
“We are the very first all-female repair shop, so all the mechanics and apprentices are female,” says Jessica Gilbank, the owner of the Ms. Lube, which opened in March 2009. “It’s about getting more women into the trade and providing a space where they can learn and be comfortable. It’s a supportive environment. I kind of use the word ‘incubator’ because it removes the whole gender dynamic between guys and girls.”

More women are getting their hands dirty with axle grease and becoming automotive repair technicians — but the industry is still heavily underrepresented by women.

“I think less than 5% of women are in the automotive trades and women represent a minority that needs to be encouraged,” adds Graham Sparrow, of Centennial College’s transportation department. “The problem is really a question of equity. With more skilled technicians approaching retirement,  we will find ourselves without the necessary support for our transportation industries.

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“And, although some of the vehicles may be designed and built overseas, only our local technicians will be able to keep them running safely and efficiently. Women represent a large pool of talent, and there is no inherent reason why they can’t take places in the shop.“

According to a labour market survey in February from the Canadian Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) Council, even though women represent nearly half of the Canadian workforce, they are highly underrepresented in the auto industry, with few women working in higher-paying jobs as automotive service technicians and other positions.

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“Targeted recruitment efforts must inevitably confront certain stereotypes of the sector that likely act as disincentives for women to enter the sector, most having to do with the traditionally male-dominated nature of the sector,” the report stated.

But with shops such as Ms. Lube leading the way, the stereotypes are being broken bit by bit. The seven staff members who work in the garage have had years of experience — some of them licensed, others apprentices.

“It definitely isn’t a revolution, but it’s a movement,” says Gilbank, 37, who studied automotive repair at Durham College in Whitby. “It’s very difficult to find women who are licensed because a lot of women haven’t stuck with the trade or they got into it and left for whatever reason. I think women have been interested in this trade for a long time, with times changing so much, they feel more able to try it.”
licensed mechanic maud sailland, originally from bordeaux, france, takes the tire off to pick-up truck to replace a spindle. (jack boland/toronto sun)
On a recent day at the shop, Maud, Erin, Susie and Heidi worked on several cars and trucks, fixing a timing belt, a power steering pump and performing other jobs. They also wererebuilding the engine on a Mercedes-Benz.

“We don’t see cars as toys, we take them more seriously,” says Maud Saillane, 32, originally from Bordeaux, France. “We know cars can be deadly weapons, too, and people need to be able to brake at the right time.”

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And while Gilbank has heard of women mechanics being berated and not taken seriously by male counterparts, she says she never encountered it. Her customers tend to be guys — perhaps drawn to the pin-up girl-esque mascot on the company’s signage.

“It was a tongue and cheek approach,” Gilbank says. “It was the old connotation of a shop where there are all these calendars of Sunshine Girls and this is bringing it back to a vintage feel. One of our biggest focuses is customer service and I think the last time society remembers that being important is back in the 1950s.”

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There is a bit of troubled water ahead for Gilbank — Mr. Lube has launched a $250,000 lawsuit claiming it suffered damages as a result of the shop choosing to use a similar name. While it is a battle to be duked out in the courts, Gilbank says it’s a shame that a small business owner who is filling a niche and creating jobs in a sector that is heavily underpopulated by women, is getting run over by a huge corporation.

“It is counter-productive and it’s super disappointing that this is happening,” she says “The most important thing is the business succeeds and women have a platform to learn this trade.”

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In the meantime, transportation schools from colleges such as Centennial continue to recruit and teach women mechanics 101 — everything from changing tires to replacing brakes.

Centennial began its Pre-Apprenticeship Program for Women Automotive Service Technician program at the same time as when Ms. Lube opened. It’s a 36-week course that ends with a 12-week work program. Currently, there are 17 students enrolled in the class.

“This program means they have access to good-paying jobs,” Sparrow says. “During tough economic times, people hold on to cars so they need mechanics to keep them running and in good economic times, dealerships are selling cars that need to be serviced and maintained.”
Emily Chung, owner of autoNiche. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun)
Aside from Ms. Lube, there is AutoNiche in Markham, another women-run auto repair shop that opened up last March. The owner, Emily Chung, is a Centennial graduate of the school’s trade skills program.

“More women are getting into the trade because there are more opportunities,” Chung, 30, says. “The industry is slowly becoming more accepting of women.”

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The provision of good service is the main theme at Chung’s Laidlaw Blvd. repair shop.

“We have one of the cleanest bathrooms you’ll find in an auto repair shop and we do services like child car seat installations and services,” she adds. “And all of our staff — we can talk technically about the repairs or in a language they can understand, so they feel comfortable. They’re not expected to know anything about their cars.”

For those who are thinking about getting into auto repair, Chung said it’s a truly rewarding job.

“No matter what kind of job you’re in there will always be challenges,” she says. “If they’re thinking of pursuing this job — one of the great benefits is you’re rewarded instantly because you’ve fixed the problem or diagnosed the problem correctly. You leave the garage with a good feeling.”

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