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What does a Mechanic Apprentice do?

By Carol Francois
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A mechanic apprentice works under the direct supervision of the master mechanic. An apprentice is a student who is learning the job while working. It is the responsibility of the master mechanic to train the apprentice and provide opportunities to use new skills. A mechanic apprentice can work in a wide range of industries, ranging from automotive to a production facility.

Apprenticeships are a traditional method of training people in the skilled trades. At the beginning of the industrial age, young men in their early teens, would leave their homes to go and live with a master tradesman. They would work in the shop for free, while slowly learning the trade. Over time, they would gain the skills necessary to set up their own shop.

Over time, this process has changed slightly, so that both men and woman are accepted, it is no longer necessary to live with the master tradesman, and most apprentices have finished high school. Many states do not require high school graduation to work as an apprentice, and this career path is popular with students who do not enjoy classroom learning.

There are three main tasks of a mechanic apprentice: cleaning, observing, and practicing. The very first task assigned to a mechanic apprentice is usually cleaning. Although not very glamorous, cleaning allows you the opportunity to observe the different positions in the company, find out where everything is, and get used to a work environment.

Cleaning is an excellent way for the employer to evaluate your work ethic. Someone who is diligent at the most menial task has the attitude required to become a careful, successful trades person. An apprentice who is unwilling to work hard, puts in a poor effort, and has excuses for their lack of performance will soon be fired.

Almost all master mechanics will establish a learning program for the apprentice. Throughout the workweek, the master mechanic will take time to teach a new skill to the mechanic apprentice. An opportunity to practice the skill will be provided. The trainer will then inspect the quality of the work, provide instruction where needed, and review lessons learned. Over time, the apprentice learns all the skills necessary to complete the tasks of the trade.

People who report the greatest satisfaction as a mechanic apprentice are mechanically inclined, enjoy problem solving, and are good team players. Although skilled trades have traditionally been a male-dominated industry, an increasing number of women are finding their niche in this area. Invest the time necessary to learn about all the different kinds of mechanics to see if this type of career is of interest to you.

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Discussion Comments
By anon943820 — On Apr 04, 2014

@anon333590: It sucks to hear your shop is the way it is, but it's not at all a fair description of the trade.

Starting an automotive service tech apprenticeship? Read on.

Not necessarily does a flat rate mechanic equal a poor teacher. Apprentices, don't be discouraged by having a teacher who is flat rate. A lot of Journeymen in any trade are flat rate; it's the way trades work. Whether you are paying the tradesperson directly or as part of a quote from a business, you're paying for the average time it should take for a qualified tradesperson to complete the task. In many fields these are standard rates/times.

In the automotive field, these will vary depending on the make and model, as they are all designed differently. Some will be easy, others will make you lose your mind, wondering how someone would design something this way, and as you smash your knuckles repeatedly you'll not only understand why the standard time is 2.5 hours, but you'll also learn how to do it better next time.

As you become more skilled as a tradesperson you'll be able to do these things faster and more efficiently, therefore making more money. (2.5 hours allotted for a full brake job on a truck, but if you've done a few then it might take you 1.3 hours, but you're still getting 2.5 hours, because that's the standard agreed upon time to do so within the trade network.) Congratulations on being super quick and efficient; that's how you make money.

I'm currently a first year apprentice, learning from the shop’s head mechanic who is, yes, taking his own time from his current task to speak to me and teach methods and theory, which may be taking time off of his current job, however, because he is the head tech and needs to oversee my work and make sure it's done correctly, he is getting the time allotted for whatever I'm doing. It's a win/win. I learn, he gets the time. (As an apprentice, I'm hourly, regardless.)

It may not work the same everywhere. All shops are different, as are Canadian/American provincial and state regulations. If the techs aren't willing to take the time to teach you, then help them when you can. Get in there. Hold something in place, grab a light, observe and discuss the situation rather than ask questions. You'll get the answers you wanted and more without annoying anyone. That being said, don't be in the way. Pick your spots. If they need help then do it, but if you're hanging around for no reason, go away and keep busy.

Your shop manager is responsible for making sure you are learning things as you should. If you're not, then discuss it with them. If nothing changes, you're a first year registered apprentice. I'm not sure about the U.S., but in Canada, (Alberta), you can transfer your apprenticeship without much drama to any new employer while registered as an apprentice. Find the place that's right for you, it's going to be your career. I wouldn't recommend changing too quickly or too often, (if at all), unless you feel it's necessary, but if you think there's a better opportunity for you elsewhere then it doesn't hurt to look into it.

There are a lot of vehicles out there, and an abundance of auto shops to service them, so there are choices. I wish I'd had something like this to read when first starting out, so hope this helps! Good luck.

By anon333590 — On May 06, 2013

In a perfect world, apprenticeship works as outlined above, and a relationship is established which not only benefits the employer/journeyman, but also the apprentice.

Unfortunately, the experience of an apprentice in the automotive trade is anything but what is described above. Especially when the journeymen in a particular shop are paid flat-rate.

If you don't know how flat-rate works, you'd best figure it out before you agree to apprentice at a shop that pays its journeymen using this particular method. Most of the time, a journeyman that is flat-rate, is not interested in taking the time to teach an apprentice, because the time required to do so literally costs them money.

Basically: flat-rate = bad learning environment for an apprentice.

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