Careers and Jobs in Mechanics and Related Fields: Introduction

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Mechanics maintain and repair machines and mechanical systems. It would be difficult to name an area of your life that's not affected by the work of mechanics. From the moment that we get out of bed, mechanics of all types help us accomplish our daily tasks. Automobile service technicians keep your car running smoothly so that you can get to school or work. Aircraft mechanics and diesel mechanics keep you safe when you travel by plane or train to far-away places. General maintenance mechanics keep your school, house, or workplace cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Did you ride an elevator today? If so, you can thank elevator installers and repairers for your safe and quick trip. Been to the doctor lately? We bet that you’ve never stopped to think about the biomedical equipment technicians who maintain and repair the medical equipment used to diagnose and treat you. And what about the food you eat every day? Agricultural equipment technicians and farm equipment mechanics maintain the equipment farmers use to plant and harvest the crops that eventually end up on your dinner table. There are even mechanics who repair the telephones and computers you use to communicate (communications equipment technicians); fix the musical instrument you play (musical instrument repairers and tuners) in band or just for fun; or fix the mountain bike you ride after school or work (bicycle mechanics). In short, through mechanics, our lives have been thoroughly changed for the better.

The work of mechanics has been revolutionized by technological development. Workers in the industry are now often trained in electrical operations and computer technology to work on the more high-tech engines, parts, and systems that comprise products such as automobiles, appliances, and aircraft.

Each of the careers in this industry offers its own opportunities for advancement. Workers with the best potential, however, are those who become skilled at what they do, seek further training or education, and are always aware that changing technology and a global economy will affect jobs and opportunities in their industry. Trade associations and unions, in an effort to improve the skill level of workers and keep them in the industry, often offer different levels of training and certification. Some are short-term programs, but many last several years because of the knowledge required in specific jobs.

In order to advance in their careers, some mechanics choose to travel the road from apprentice to journey worker. Others choose to move from programming to designing, while still others become trainers and supervisors or move into technical sales and customer support. Those who dream of owning their own business should remember that most of the small businesses in this industry are owned by people who came up through the ranks.

Employment for mechanics is closely tied to the economic conditions within their specific industry. Although economic conditions have improved during the last decade, employment opportunities have not increased proportionately. Many companies have laid off mechanics and are hiring fewer workers than in the past. In addition, automation is affecting employment opportunities for many workers. The manufacturing industry has been revolutionized by highly productive, computer-controlled machining and turning centers that change their own tools; transfer machines that completely machine, assemble, and test mass-produced products; and innovative metal removal and forming systems. Robots and robotic equipment are becoming more common and are being used in many areas where the work is tedious, repetitious, or dangerous. Automated inspection equipment, such as electronic sensors, cameras, X rays, and lasers, is increasingly being used to test and inspect parts during production.

All these factors have affected the career outlook for mechanics. However, there will always be opportunities for mechanics who have advanced training and knowledge of the latest electronic and computer technology.

Each article in this guide discusses in detail a particular mechanical-related occupation. The articles in this guide have been continuously updated and revised with the latest information from the U.S. Department of Labor, professional organizations, and other sources. The following paragraphs detail the sections and features that appear in the book.

The Quick Facts section provides a brief summary of the career, including recommended school subjects, personal skills, work environment, minimum educational requirements, salary ranges, certification or licensing requirements, and employment outlook. This section also provides acronyms and identification numbers for the following government classification indexes: the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), the Guide to Occupational Exploration (GOE), the National Occupational Classification (NOC) Index, and the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) -Standard Occupational Classification System (SOC) index. The DOT, GOE, and O*NET indexes have been created by the U.S. government; the NOC index is Canada’s career classification system. Readers can use the identification numbers listed in the Quick Facts section to access further information about a career. Print editions of the DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Indianapolis, In.: JIST Works, 1991) and GOE (Guide for Occupational Exploration. Indianapolis, In.: JIST Works, 2001) are available at libraries. Electronic versions of the NOC (http://www23.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca) and O*NET (http://online.onetcenter.org) are available on the Internet. When no DOT, GOE, NOC, or O’ numbers are present, this means that the U.S. Department of Labor or Human Resources Development Canada have not created a numerical designation for this career. In this instance, you will see the acronym “N/A,” or not available.

The Overview section is a brief introductory description of the duties and responsibilities involved in this career. Oftentimes, a career may have a variety of job titles. When this is the case, alter native career titles are presented. Employment statistics are also provided, when available. The History section describes the history of the particular job as it relates to the overall development of its industry or field. The Job describes the primary and secondary duties of the job. Requirements discusses high school and postsecondary education and training requirements, any necessary certification or licensing, and other personal requirements for success in the job. Exploring offers suggestions on how to gain experience in or knowledge of the particular job before making a firm educational and financial commitment. The focus is on what can be done while still in high school (or in the early years of college) to gain a better understanding of the job. The Employers section gives an overview of typical places of employment for the job. Starting Out discusses the best ways to land that first job, be it through the college career services office, newspaper ads, Internet employment sites, or personal contact. The Advancement section describes what kind of career path to expect from the job and how to get there. Earnings lists salary ranges and describes the typical fringe benefits. The Work Environment section describes the typical surroundings and conditions of employment—whether indoors or outdoors, noisy or quiet, social or independent. Also discussed are typical hours worked, any seasonal fluctuations, and the stresses and strains of the job. The Outlook section summarizes the job in terms of the general economy and industry projections. For the most part, Outlook information is obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is supplemented by information gathered from professional associations. Job growth terms follow those used in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Growth described as “much faster than the average” means an increase of 27 percent or more. Growth described as “faster than the average” means an increase of 18 to 26 percent. Growth described as “about as fast as the average” means an increase of 9 to 17 percent. Growth described as “more slowly than the average” means an increase of 0 to 8 percent. “Decline” means a decrease by any amount. Each article ends with For More Information, which lists organizations that provide information on training, education, internships, scholarships, and job placement.

This guide also includes photographs, informative sidebars, and interviews with professionals in the field. So, let’s go, and find you a great, secure and well-paying job…!

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