A Beginner's Guide to a Career in the Automotive Aftermarket
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
I often get asked not only how I started in the automotive industry, but also what advice I have for others interested in pursuing a career in the industry. In my last blog, I shared some of my story in The Intersection of Marketing, Racing Cars, and Life as an Enthusiast which has led me here.
Below I’ll take a deeper dive into the topic with some helpful hints that may get you or someone you know started on a career path in this great industry.
Volunteer at Industry Events
To start, a great way to get involved in the industry is to volunteer. If you have interest in being involved in racing, go to your local track and get to know some of the teams and the drivers. Ask if you can help them. They are always looking for help working on cars (future technicians), looking at data (future engineers), or help writing a release, entertaining guests at the track, or helping write a presentation for a sponsorship proposal (future marketer). There's never a shortage of opportunities if you go out and look for them.
Another way to get started would be to volunteer with industry groups. There are several different options including industry organizations like SEMA for example, all the way to the local tech or vocational schools that usually have different programs or clubs after school. These are great ways to get involved and meet others with similar interests or even industry contacts.
My last suggestion would be to go to your local enthusiast events such as your neighborhood car show, autocross, or other enthusiast get togethers. There are always opportunities to help set up events, corner marshal or just be a runner for those leading the event. It may not be glamorous, but it provides introductions to those that may be able to provide opportunities in the future. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, get involved and learn about the industry. It will help you decide where you want to go and what skills you may need to get there.
Pick a Field of Study and Get the Needed Skills
The first step to get started in the automotive industry is to determine where you want to make your impact. There are a several opportunities but it will depend if you want to work on cars or if you want to work behind a desk. The great part about this career is you can have the opportunity to do both with various skill sets.
Vocational & Tech Schools
The first place to start if you think you have interest in working on cars would be a community tech or vocational school. There are various schools around the country and even in your local community that have specialized programs in the automotive segment. At some point down the road, I'll go deeper into some of those national schools and what they have to offer.
Most curriculums include specialized auto technician training, paint & body, and diesel technician training. From there, other options include more specialized programs such as CNC machining and basic CAD design without a four-year engineering degree. In some cases, these programs can be completed in less than two years and there are plenty of well-paying career opportunities after graduation. In fact, there are more opportunities than qualified automotive technicians currently, so if you like working on cars, this should be a consideration.
If you have interest in a racing career and potentially working for a race team, I’d highly recommend you also get a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This will provide you a much greater opportunity to join a team. Having the ability to not only work on cars but having a license to drive the rig to the event can be the tie breaker in getting the job.
The other option of course is a four-year degree. There are several ways to earn a four-year degree but there are really a couple of areas of study that would be most beneficial in this industry. The most common are either engineering or a business degree. Again, depending on the field that you want to study and the direction you want to go in your automotive career, either one of these will help you get your foot in the door in automotive.
I’ll always advocate that you study business in some form, even if you work on cars or get an engineering degree. Business, even as a minor, is a great idea. Just having a foundation in business will out you a step ahead. It helps you understand the basics if you decide to start your own business someday in your area of expertise.
Within business, finance or economics are strong options but for automotive, I’d highly recommend marketing. Digital marketing, understanding SEO, the sales funnel, and building an email list are essential in any business. Also, marketers are responsible for evaluating sponsorship programs, PR, and working directly with influencers and ambassadors within the industry. Every day, marketing and brand development become more essential in growing a business and a marketing leadership roll can also lead to the C-suite later in your career if that is of interest.
From an engineering perspective there are several directions, but mechanical engineers primarily work in this industry. Even though you hear about manufacturing being shipped overseas, there will always be a need for engineers to design the next component, perfect current technology, or develop the next state of the art vehicle. When you look to the performance aftermarket particularly, most of the manufactures are small, specialized, and are led by enthusiasts. If you have passion for the industry and acquire the skillsets, you are on your way to being successful.
Passion is Contagious
As you'll see in this industry, most who are involved have tremendous enthusiasm for the automobile. They started because they had interest in cars, they worked at events, and they meet great people who encouraged them along the way. If you show energy and interest, there will be opportunities. I can tell you, and most of my counterparts will tell you as well, passion & enthusiasm for this industry will take you farther than any piece of paper that you'll earn in school. A positive attitude is also essential. As an enthusiast, being out with people that have similar interests will energize you and that will help you thrive.
Industry Leaders Want to Help
What is special about this industry is that those who are leaders are always genuinely interested in helping the next generation succeed. When someone is enthusiastic about getting in the business, we look at how we were early in our careers and we know that without influence from key people, we would never have been given opportunities.
There's a lot to be said about paying it forward and that is something very important to all of us. Please reach out, we're here to help. Early in my career, there were several VP’s on the sales team that looked out for me and helped mentor me to advance my career. Just getting an opportunity to work in marketing came because I have a passion for the industry and the VP of Marketing at that time, saw that that passion and willingness to work hard to succeed. That opened doors for me to get those marketing opportunities early in my career.
Just remember on your quest for career opportunities in automotive, be passionate, be humble, be grateful, and keep reaching out because there's plenty of people who want to help you succeed in whatever automotive path you choose!