Technicians Run the World 

Feb. 6, 2024
Add excellence in communication plus intelligent technician and you get Andrew McGee, Solano Community College Instructor.  

Some of the most influential figures in the automotive industry right now are those who are working to educate the next generation of technicians and to show those considering their own paths that the automotive industry has valuable skills that are in demand and can supply a high-quality career.

Growing up in Vallejo, California, automotive instructor Andrew McGee didn’t have easy access to programs and training. For the past decade, though, Solano Community College has offered Vallejo locals the pathway to start a career in the field, with McGee being one of the faculty’s leading instructors in the subject.

Ratchet+Wrench spoke with McGee about his entry into automotive education and what his experiences offered him that he now passes down to his students.

A New World 

The automotive program at Solano Community College had been put on hold for over a decade, until 2013, when McGee and his colleagues helped revive it.

Not only did McGee feel compelled to provide the resources he didn’t have when he was a student, but he already had a background in education at the time, having taught K-12 for a while. Though he never thought he would attend college, he not only earned an associate degree in automotive studies but also a bachelor’s in communications. He then went on to gain a master’s and is now pursuing a doctorate.

As he began to lay the groundwork for his career, McGee wasn’t sure where to set his sights. He was trained in automotive work but enjoyed the writing and editing work he did throughout college and the opportunity he had to meet people and learn.

One career path that attracted him early in his career was editing for automotive magazines, which helped him realize that there were other opportunities in the field besides only working as a technician. His horizons broadened after that.

“I wasn't aware of all of the options available to me, not only as a student, but as an automotive technician,” remembers McGee.

Part of what motivates McGee today stems from that prior lack of knowledge, culminating in a desire to share with his own students the variety of different paths available to them with the skills they learn through his teaching.

Not only is there a need for those handling finances or customer service within the automotive industry, but many of the skills learned are transferable to other fields. McGee has had students use the training they received at Solano to pursue careers repairing medical equipment in the healthcare industry.

“Electricity has been around for a very long time, and it hasn't really changed too much,” McGee says. “So when our students master the electrical skill set, they're poised to go into various types of industries, not just automotive.” 

A Place for Anyone 

Students in the automotive program learn about an assortment of topics, including engine performance, automatic transmission repair, hybrid and electric vehicle repair, brakes, and more–but one of the most important lessons McGee passes onto his students is that there is a vast array of career opportunities just within the automotive industry alone.

“It'd be very shallow to say that being a technician is the only way to get into the automotive industry,” McGee says. “We train our students on a lot of the soft skills, so that even if they don't plan to become a technician or mechanic in the industry, they can still be in the automotive industry doing other things from the other skills that they learned and that we have throughout our course material.”

Since starting as an instructor, making his students fully informed on all they need to know is something McGee has continued to improve at, especially as the automotive program’s student body has steadily grown since its relaunch a decade ago.

Many students are those who have been made aware of the different careers in the field and realized there’s a place for them, even if they aren’t technically inclined, highlighting the importance of spreading that message to more young people seeking careers.

McGee is a hands-on teacher who gets his students directly involved with the work–something he feels differentiates him from automotive programs in the past. Even during lecture portions when discussing theory, it isn’t only discussion, but can include touching, feeling, or smelling different problems and scenarios.

McGee has no shortage of pride in his students, though he can’t help but reflect on how many more resources there are for them now that he didn’t have early on in his own training. This is part of what drives him, though: getting to be a part of something that fosters innovation and making the field he works in even better.

“Sometimes I'll look outside and I'll see the modifications they've done on their vehicles, and I kind of chuckle to myself because I barely had air conditioning–matter of fact, I didn't have air conditioning when I was going to college,” McGee recalls. “So it's definitely a new world, and I'm glad that the students are here to share with us.” 


A Man of Many Talents

While nearly anyone in the automotive industry would know their way around a car, not everyone can teach those skills to others. Being someone with talents as both a technician and in the realm of teaching and communication, McGee is a vital part of recruiting more into the field.

As an instructor, McGee connects with his students and works to understand what areas they need extra help in and the best ways to address those gaps in knowledge.

“We not only do we cater to the kinesthetic learners–the hands-on learners–but we also kind of tend to the visual learners and the auditory learners as well,” McGee explains. “I think as an instructor, it's our charge to have that unique perspective to kind of iterate our lessons accordingly.”

Though the number of students in the program continues to expand, McGee believes that there must be more awareness of what a career in the industry encapsulates: that it requires working with software and cutting-edge technology; being able to work with a team and communicate to customers; having an understanding of chemistry with regards to things such as engine performance and emissions; and having skills that will likely always be in demand around the globe.

McGee wishes to see more positive representation for those working as technicians, as they’re responsible for keeping things running that most people rely on every day. Rather than being considered as a plan B option, he wants to see more people actively motivated to learn about automotive and how careers in the field are some of the most important jobs that need to be filled.

Promoting a more positive image of automotive careers is something McGee hopes to start more conversations on as he delves into the subject as part of his doctoral research. In the meantime, he does this every day through his work at Solano by showing his students how those who work in automotive help keep the world spinning.

“Funny thing is–I halfway joke about it, but I'm pretty sure it's true–that mechanics run the world,” McGee remarks. “No police car, no fire truck can get to its destination if it's broken down.” 

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