Employer Soundbites: The Changing Face of Automotive Repair Engineering

Whenever automotive repair engineering is mentioned, most think of manual systems, messy shops and “grease monkeys”. Eric Goh, founder of Motor Edgevantage, is out to change that perception.
Sarah Si
Sarah Si
The Changing Face of Automotive Repair Engineering

gradsingapore’s Employer Soundbites aims to share quick thoughts from employers on current industry trends, hiring insights and useful tips for fresh graduates looking to kickstart their career on a high note.

About the interviewee

When Eric first entered the workforce, he was an operational assistant in the shipping industry. He managed to save enough to buy his first car, a Toyota, only for it to be a bad experience as the car would always break down.

Frustrated, he sought out information about car maintenance himself in order to find out what the problem was. The more time he spent on car maintenance, the more his interest grew. Finally, he made the decision to enter the industry as an apprentice mechanic and advanced his career to senior executive through continuous learning and a high level of performance consistency.

Growing from the rank and file also provided Eric with a multi-dimensional perspective of the automotive industry. With sales margin erosion and a rapid shift in business models to exploit margins from parts and service, he decided to realise his aspiration to run his own business. His goal is to leverage his 25 years of dealership experience and competency to establish a reliable dealer-alternative car workshop, targeting the premium and luxury brands segment.

At 56 years old, Eric is now looking at the legacy he’ll leave behind upon his retirement. He wishes to do his part to change certain mindsets about the industry, especially among the younger generation, that working in a vehicle workshop carries potential and opportunity for them to build a good and sustainable career.

As mentioned, you are “striving to shatter the “Grease Monkey” stereotype and change the mindsets of both young and old about working in a car workshop”. How does Motor Edgevantage work to change mindsets and shatter stereotypes?

Most people don’t consider it derogatory, which is why the “grease monkey” stereotype is so deep-rooted in our mindset and difficult to change. It also doesn’t help that car mechanics have a low social status, as most people don’t see the value of a trained and certified mechanic.

To challenge the status quo, we’ve set up a modern, clean and bright workshop equipped with the latest special tools and equipment, and a high level of automation to improve productivity, such as vertical carousel parts storage and retrieval systems and an enterprise resource planning (ERP) cloud-based system to integrate and digitalise all our business functions, as well. Our mechanics are issued with iPads to assist in their work. We’ve also invested in an automated car wash system to help our older workers.

These different technologies add value to our services, and indicate that we’re moving with the times and evolving with industry needs. The days of working with a clipboard and a paper checklist are long gone.

We’ve also adopted a skill-based approach to career progression, and implemented structural human capital development to ensure that employee skills development remains a priority. For instance, Motor Edgevantage is an Institute of Technical Education (ITE) industry training partner in Automotive Engineering for NITEC and Work-Study Diploma courses.

In addition, in preparation for the push towards greater electric vehicle (EV) adoption and changing industry dynamics, our employers have sponsorships for the National EV Specialist Safety (NESS) certification, and opportunities to further their studies in countries like Germany and Estonia.

Do you have any interesting stories about when you successfully challenged the stereotype and changed a mindset? Could you tell us?

One of my employees, Nicholas Lee, was a “lost soul” after National Service (NS), and was working as a Grab driver when I first interviewed him. The only thing he knew then about cars was how to drive, but I could sense his strong passion for cars.

I told him that if he was willing to start from scratch and put in the effort, he would have an opportunity to build a career for himself in an industry he had a passion for.

At the end of the two-year traineeship programme at ITE, he won the S R Nathan Book Prize awarded to the top 25 trainees each year.

I still recall the moment when his family was very touched and proud of his accomplishment at the award ceremony. Nicholas now has gone through electric vehicle maintenance training to future-proof his career, heads our performance tuning section and is also an ITE-certified mentor who coaches our new trainees.

Were there any insights into the automotive repair engineering industry that surprised you when you first joined the industry? Could you tell us?

Back then, it was common for apprentices to buy food and drinks for their mentors, as they had to get into their “good books” before knowledge was shared. It was also very common for mentors to hide “trade secrets”, and deprive you of learning opportunities by assigning you to unproductive tasks, like collecting spare parts or retrieving special tools, while they worked on more complex repairs. With my eagerness to learn as much as I could then, I was certainly surprised by this barrier.

It was also more common to file technical bulletins manually, and the manager and/or mentor would lock them up to restrict access, as this was one way they could make themselves indispensable. This knowledge silo was a real eye-opener to the intricacies of the industry.

In your opinion, how is the automotive repair engineering sector changing today?

The automotive repair engineering industry is undergoing unprecedented disruptions. For instance, horse carriages were replaced by today’s Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) at a snail’s pace as compared to the EV evolution at lightning speed.

EVs require a whole different skillset and knowledge bundle. Mechanical knowledge will eventually have to be complemented with software and IT skills, and this may prove to be a challenge for older workers, though it’s an opportunity for younger, tech savvy people.

What are some challenges most fresh graduates and young professionals just entering the automotive repair engineering sector will most likely encounter? How can they best overcome them?

You don’t need to be strong, but you do need to be physically fit to work as a mechanic, because you’ll spend much of your day on your feet or in uncomfortable positions. You’ll also sweat a lot because of Singapore’s high humidity and the non-air-conditioned environment. All this takes quite some time to get used to.

Fresh graduates and young professionals will also need to learn how to respect and follow repair processes strictly, and not try to cut corners. This usually results in taking a longer time for repairs, as they’ll have to backtrack to the missing step later. This comes with experience and patience.

I would say keeping a positive mindset is very important, as well. Cut out negative thoughts, learn as much as you can from your senior colleagues and don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back when a repair is successfully completed. That will help you in your career navigation in the automotive repair engineering industry.

In your opinion, what are some of the necessary skills and attributes fresh graduates and young professionals just entering the automotive repair engineering sector should possess to succeed?

There are many attributes we look out for in our recruitment strategy. Key attributes are having a positive attitude, a passion for cars and digital skills.

If you possess a positive attitude, skills and knowledge can be developed easily. Passion drives you to enjoy your work, and when you enjoy what you do, you’re more likely to be optimistic and self-motivated.

Digital skills are also essential and indispensable. Without digital competency, we’re disconnected and obsolete.

In your opinion, what is the fastest, most successful way to build expertise in automotive repair engineering?

My personal opinion is that on-the-job training (OJT) is by far the most effective tool to accelerate competency development, as it allows mechanics to gain experience by working in scenarios very similar to those they’ll encounter on a daily basis.

If you base it on the Pareto Principle (80-20 Rule), it’s not too far off. 20 per cent of our most common jobs represent 80 per cent of our sales. As such, we focus our OJTs on jobs that train and sharpen skills, which can be used to improve operational efficiency and keep customer downtime to a minimum.

The constant desire to acquire new and relevant knowledge through training courses also helps.

What tips and advice would you give graduates and young professionals looking to enter the automotive repair engineering sector?

First, other than having a passion for cars, you need to have curiosity. Depending on your aptitude, you can build capability in two to three years. Once you master the skills – especially car electronics and software – you’ll be highly sought-after, and a good career path will begin to develop.

Secondly, in terms of monetary compensation, it isn’t exactly true that car mechanics are low-wage workers. A competent mechanic or technician with three years’ dealership experience, and who can work independently without supervision, can easily earn an annual income of 70k to 80k. This figure doesn’t include Annual Wage Supplement (AWS) or variable bonuses.

Finally, cast aside all previous stereotypes about car mechanics and car workshops. Approach a potential career in this industry with an open mind. Speak to industry professionals to get more information, and find out about the training schemes available. Be clear about why you intend to join this industry and work towards your goals and targets.

The automotive repair engineering industry is constantly evolving and changing. I certainly believe car workshops will never disappear. Instead, they’ll evolve, and the younger generation will have the chance to forge their own path.