How to become a mechanic? With SA?
January 16, 2012 10:11 PM   Subscribe

How does a person become a mechanic, ideally, and is this line of work compatible with social anxiety?

I have a friend; a class setting or lots of people around seriously wears her out mentally/emotionally and her difficulties make her feel inadequate. She's intensely nervous of being called on or speaking in front of others. Starts thinking negatively about herself. Things go poorly and she can barely stand to be there, really. This in turn depresses her badly and ruins her motivation in class and her motivation to keep attending.

This same person is quite competent outside such settings. Intelligent, no-BS, reads up, makes an effort to do things right.

So, we kind of bounced career ideas around trying to find a 'path of least resistance' -- a job that didn't require working with many people. Among the ideas: auto mechanic.

Does this make sense? If so, what's a good way to get into this line of work? Apprenticeship? Self-study and an expendable vehicle? Are vocational training classes differently structured than normal classes?
posted by MrFish to Education (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: No one is watching you do your thing as an auto mechanic. Someone brings their car in. They tell you what's wrong. You look at the car and tell them what's causing it. You give them an estimate to fix it. They either agree or don't agree to pay for the fix. If there's more to it, it's not obvious to the customer.

This link has all the info I think she could want: Bureau of Labor Statistics info on Auto Mechanics

As an aside from someone who's had social anxiety: Has she tried therapy and medication? No one has to feel that way. :(
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:30 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think it makes sense at all. Many people seem to feel like they're getting screwed when they take their X in to the Y to get Z'd - It gets to be a pretty stressful job, frankly, and it's very much a deal-with-people type of affair. I'm not advocating some job under a rock somewhere, but she should know what's waiting for her before she invests a not-insignificant amount of time getting up to snuff. (Put plainly for the record, working in this field is the opposite of easy!)

My father's been an auto mechanic for at least twenty trips around the sun (who's counting?), and I've been a bicycle mechanic for five or six, and based on the weight and priority of the things you've said I'd probably recommend something else.
posted by Chutzler at 11:11 PM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't have any particular job suggestions but if she needs to do training program or classes at a formal school, she should talk to the disability office about getting an accomodation that allows her to attend class without having to participate on demand. (not appropriate for all classes but do-able in many.) I'm assuming that she would be Ok sitting in class if she knew she wouldn't be called on.

To do this, Usually she would need a letter for a doctor or therapist giving her a diagnosis and outlining the accommodations that she needs. She would then set up an appointment with someone in the disability office. (She could take a parent or friend with her to help her talk about what she needs.) Once the school agrees, at the beginning of the quarter or semester, she would get a letter from the disability office to give to each of her teachers that just lists the accomodations that were approved. The teacher is then expected to follow this. She might need to talk with the teacher about this privately during office hours to work out what it would apply to this particular class.
posted by metahawk at 11:33 PM on January 16, 2012

I know someone with similar issues who learned how to make dental crowns. Requires lots of fine detail work and almost no interpersonal interactions.
posted by metahawk at 11:36 PM on January 16, 2012

Response by poster: Well Chutzler, I'm not saying you're wrong, but are most shops that way? Somehow I picture some other operations where there are several mechanics and a desk person.. not all of whom talk to customers significantly. Though maybe that is wishful?
posted by MrFish at 11:43 PM on January 16, 2012

Response by poster: metahawk, I'm under the impression it's more than is tolerable to her even barring being put on the spot. Did try out a class with the instructor told to avoid that, to no success.
posted by MrFish at 11:57 PM on January 16, 2012

At dealerships, the mechanics almost never talk directly to customers. The customer only interacts with the service adviser. The mechanics generally only talk to the service manager and the folks doing the menial labor.

The places I've seen have been pretty male dominated, if that's a consideration.

If she wants to be a solo mechanic or a mechanic at a small shop, there will be a lot more customer interaction. It will be a pretty much day-to-day thing there from what I've seen, unless you're talking about one of the quick lube franchises.
posted by wierdo at 12:34 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ideally, she should have been working on cars since she was big enough to hold a wrench. How green is she? Does she at least know how to change her own oil? How about brake pads? Before hitting any kind of school, she should at least know as much as a weekend DIY guy.

Further, while she may only interact with customers occasionally, she will be dealing with other mechanics in the garage constantly, and despite this being the 21st century, she will most likely experience gender-based hostility from day one. Also, she had best have the strength to handle tools, tires and other heavy parts and equipment, because anyone who may help her once will get so ragged out by the other guys that he won't help her again.

My assessment? Urging her to get into auto mechanics is equivalent to throwing her to the wolves.
posted by Ardiril at 12:39 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OnTheLastCastle: That Bureau of Labor site is really great for getting a grasp of the nature of various jobs.

To reply to your question. therapy and meds have been attempted a few times, for a month or two, but not longer term. Money issues. Plus some meds are no joke as far as side effects and future withdrawl possibilities that doctors fail to be educated about.

Currently, getting work is the main thing before doctors can be paid and meds bought.

Ardiril: Fairly green but not a total princess. Knows most relevant tools and has done electronics work before. No auto repair though. Her anxiety seems mostly contextual. I'm not urging really except always reiterating to her that there has to be a career niche for her.

It may be that it is not as a mechanic.

Still very interested in further viewpoints anyone could offer.
posted by MrFish at 1:07 AM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: There are very few careers that don't involve interation with anyone. But a few others that involve working with just a few people, while being left alone a lot of the time are:

Garden/landscaping/nursery/park work
Quite a lot of programming/system administration jobs (although some of these may involve taking calls)
Various technical jobs in healthcare - a friend of mine makes orthopedic appliances, and says he basically works in a room by himself and rarely speaks to anyone.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:55 AM on January 17, 2012

Yah, I would say the interaction with other mechanics would have to be considered in the forefront. Car guys can be very um...earthy. A lot of them are there because they didn't feel comfortable in a classroom setting either.
posted by telstar at 2:46 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have some social anxiety (though never as bad as your friend's, and it has got somewhat better with exposure and just fucking dealing with it). I am a sysadmin. It suits me pretty well.
posted by corvine at 2:52 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Auto shops are usually fairly busy places. Plus the mechanic constantly has to interact with either other employees or customers, offer diagnosis of problems, suggest solutions, defend the diagnosis and solution, etc. It doesn't seem like the sort of environment where somebody with social anxieties will thrive. But really, the answer here is to deal with the anxiety issue, not run away and hide.
posted by COD at 5:36 AM on January 17, 2012

Where I live, mechanics learn either by helping out their mechanic father or uncle from when they were a little kid and just learning on the job, or by attending a two year vo-tech program. I know someone who did that program, and it's intensive, 8-5, five days a week, with intense and high-quality instruction. Pretty much all the students are male, and they are pretty much all guys who didn't find high school a wonderfully engaging environment, but there's definitely an expectation of engagement in the classroom, etc.

Do you have a good local community college? If so, your friend should go there and talk with the admissions counselors about programs that will lead to careers with minimal interaction. There may well be an option that really speaks to her.

I can think of lots of jobs that have minimal customer interaction, but most have fairly intense co-worker contact. Even being a long-haul truck driver (something that might actually be ideal for her) comes with needing to deal with people during the loading and unloading phases, for example.
posted by Forktine at 6:24 AM on January 17, 2012

The majority of repair shops, the line technician doesn't talk directly to the customer. That is what the front desk people are for. Now, there are times when they'll have to talk to a customer, if further information is needed.

Now if you're a lube tech in a quick oil change type place, you'd speak to a customer more often.
posted by narcoleptic at 7:06 AM on January 17, 2012

It seems to me that she's kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place, in that most jobs that allow you to be very independent and aren't service-intensive do require classroom-based education. What about looking into distance learning programs, where she could be in a separate classroom from the instructor and might be able to fly under the radar? Or is correspondence school still a thing? University of Phoenix? Anything where she could be enrolled and taking classes without the classroom component.
posted by CheeseLouise at 7:15 AM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: or by attending a two year vo-tech program.

I work at a school that has a two year vo-tech program and trains young women to be mechanics, among other things. It's definitely a job that women can do and do well, but there are serious consideration that she'd have to think about. It's also a training path that has a lot of hands-on "you work with the class, let's see you take apart that distributor" sorts of thigns that may not work for her. I'll outline a few other issues in addition to what people have said [or re-emphasizing]

- male-dominated atmosphere - this may be one of those "no big deal" things for her but she will be working with a lot of men who may make assumptions about her capabilities because she's female. The auto teacher at my school has to really work to make sure the women in his class are treated as equals by the other students and our school is very affirming of women in non-traditional professions and even with instructor and institutional support, this can be challenging
- contentious - if you're in a place that has a front desk and people working in the back, it's one thing but if you're in a small shop it's totally another. There may be people with issues and concerns that need to be dealt with and this is not just interacting with people, this is interacting with people who may be upset. This requires confidence and maybe some level of maturity/assuredness
- tenacity - I totally sympathize with the depression/anxiety issues but I'm unclear if she's receiving treatment for these things. One of the things that sticks out for me with mechanic work is that you really need to be able to OWN a problem and not just get frustrated and start avoiding it [I mean sure some people do this, but it's not a good path] and I'd want to make sure she felt like she could handle some "Why is the damned car still doing that damned thing??" sorts of problems without bolting.

So I don't want to be a downer but I think there are a lot more solo-type professions that might be more her speed including tech stuff, property management/landscape stuff, driving and even back-room librarian work such as cataloging or digital archiving sorts of things.
posted by jessamyn at 7:36 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Something to keep in mind: she doesn't like classroom settings, but does she like people? I mean, clearly she has at least one friend--you--and perhaps others. If she is someone who has friends, and enjoys spending time with them, would a socially isolated job be right for her? I think she should consider what aspects of social interactions are enjoyable for her and what aspects trigger anxiety. If she can function socially outside of a classroom but not in it, that's something to examine further.

Also, if her social anxiety in all classroom settings is so severe that, even if she knows for certain that the instructor will not call on her, she still can't function as a student, that is a very serious situation. I can't help but think that this will be a problem regardless of the career path she chooses. I understand that therapy is expensive, and meds can be tricky, but does she have health insurance that might cover in-network therapists and psychiatrists? Does she have parents or other family who can support her financially in getting help? Trying treatment once or twice, for a month at a time isn't good enough.

I got help for my driving anxiety when it became a problem in my marriage (I'd either stay home to avoid having to drive, or make my husband do the driving)--it was getting in the way of my life and of things I wanted to do, and my husband finally confronted me about it. Up until that point, I'd been thinking, "I'll just avoid it; I'll do things that don't require driving," but that just meant my world shrank and opportunities diminished. I want to suggest that your friend should consider whether she's on a similarly limited path.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:51 AM on January 17, 2012

Further data point: My sister tried training as an auto mechanic, she has the capacity and many of the skills that such a job would require and in general is a pretty tough broad. But ending up dropping out of the school because the sexism was so unrelenting, ingrained and pervasive. Which is not to say all schools are like that, or that it would be impossible to get trough the courses, but auto-mechanic does seem to be one of the last bastions where it is pretty hard for women to get a toe hold.

I've long thought that a school dedicated to training just women in many of the traditional male jobs (mechanics, electricians, plumbers etc) would make a mint and that the market-place would welcome women friendly businesses in those areas.
posted by edgeways at 8:42 AM on January 17, 2012

Aside from other considerations, and as much as it pains and enrages me to say it, the fact that she is female is a huge deal here. My father is a mechanic and I have been around shops and garages all my life, they are a boys club, female mechanics are rare, and have to work ten times as hard and be ten times as good to get the same oppurtunities and treatment as males. I have seen this first hand. For someone who already deals with anxiety this is not a good path, it would be much more difficult and stressful than many other options.

Also, treatment, and just growing up can make a huge difference. I had terrible social anxiety for many years, but eventually, with some treatment, got mostly over it, and now work in a job I never would have thought I could do, working with people constantly. It's a skill, and one she needs to learn, no matter how uncomfortable it makes her.
posted by catatethebird at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2012

There are a lot of other jobs that don't require great people skills and you can get distance education for. I work as a bookkeeper/accountant and I swear that line of work is more full of socially awkward people than any other field. You can usually get distance/online training, once you get the job you are for the most part left alone in an office or at a desk with a pile of paperwork and you just get on with it, meetings and dealing with other people is usually left to the higher ups, if she becomes an A/R or A/P clerk she might have to deal with people on the phone about money owing or owed and it's a line of work that suits methodical people. Also once you get some experience jobs are not usually that hard to find.

As someone who finds small talk a minefield of potential social faux pas I love it. My husband works in software development and those guys are more socially skilled and open than the people I've worked with.
posted by wwax at 9:00 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the same line, but more in line with her needs: welding. Despite popular perceptions, welding is a high-skill craft that is always in great demand somewhere. By its nature, the job is seclusive except for the occasional need of assistants. Also, the more knowledge she brings to the position in terms of engineering and ability to read blueprints, the greater will be the demand for her.

Similarly, the paint shop. Let somebody else do the bodywork.
posted by Ardiril at 9:05 AM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: I understand the treatment advice and am aware that it is not something best ignored longterm, but the money (and lack of insurance) make that hard for her to pursue. Not to mention also developing an increasing general weariness of the whole issue and reluctance to try treatment again. Anyway, with some work she can do, I think treatment would be more addressable.

So, thanks very much for replies, especially those suggesting appropriate jobs. More of that please, if possible!
posted by MrFish at 10:08 AM on January 17, 2012

Best answer: The problem with any job in which you are a skilled person doing work for people without your skill (worse, people without even a rudimentary understanding of the mechanics of your skill) is that even if you do your work in seclusion there will always be moments when you have to be able to confidently explain (or, worse, defend) some informed choice you've made about your work to someone who is clueless and (at worst) willing to assume that you have screwed up or (even worse) are deliberately trying to screw them. It's better if you have a higher-up between you and the client, but even then - you've done the work alone, and if there's a problem of some kind they have no way of understanding what happened if you can't explain it to them without second-guessing yourself. Even if you have the nicest boss in the world, you can end up feeling just terrible when situations like this come up if you don't have confidence. I don't know if your friend's anxiety would make this kind of thing harder for her or not.

I have particular experience with this dynamic in technical jobs, but reading it over again - I can imagine it being just as much of an issue in any job.

Any form of doing work and getting paid for it requires social engagement of some sort, and social engagement can always be stressful, even for people without a natural tendency toward social anxiety. I don't think choosing any particular line of work will let her avoid this; it's just a fact of life. (Though there are certainly some fields she might want to avoid!)

Some misc. things that might be helpful for her to think about:
- How can you identify a supportive, healthy work environment when you go in for an interview?
- What workplace situations can you imagine that might make you anxious? Can you think of any ways to diffuse those situations? Role-playing boundary-setting might be helpful here.
- Remember that every job is stressful from time to time. Going into one excited and dreaming that it'll be a perfect thing that will allow you to forget about your anxiety is a recipe for disappointment as soon as you hit an inevitable Stressful Work Thing.
- Imagine the social structures and interactions that exist at different workplaces she might be considering. (Maybe even draw a little diagram!) Which types of interactions do you expect you'll be comfortable with? Which do you expect will make you anxious? (You should be sure think of both - again, no job is never stressful. Expecting this helps so much.)
posted by bubukaba at 11:13 AM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: As far as I understand, her anxieties have a lot to do with people en masse. Both the unpredictability and the hmm..I guess exposure to all of the potential attention and thoughts people might have directed at her.

Also it seems like some maladaption to the stress/heightened alertness involved in settings like classes or busy streets just overwhelms her. A sort of stress most people experience much more subtly. And a lot of self-criticism creeps in. And comparisons to the (numerous) examples of better adapted people that these settings put in her face.

This all might be related to a badly planned, aborted immigration attempt wherein she was thrown in a very rough public highschool in a bad area of NY, coming from a more relaxed Caribbean area. Being 'raised' half the time by ignorant, largely neglectful parents did her no favors either.

This much disclosure is probably overstepping on my part and I'm not in her head, of course, but this is what I've gleaned talking with her.

In any case, I think A person or even 2-3 people is quite a lot less taxing and OK to her.
posted by MrFish at 2:40 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: Any further job ideas? If not by tomorrow, I'll consider this question resolved. Thanks very much everyone.
posted by MrFish at 7:42 PM on January 18, 2012

« Older Word for verbally/aurally illiterate?   |   Après toi, pas de déluge Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.