The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is celebrating 50 years in 2022 and it’s putting its focus on recognizing automotive service professionals.
Automotive technicians especially proved their importance after the global COVID-19 pandemic took shape. Though many were forced to stay home, automotive repair was deemed an essential service to ensure vehicles of essential workers, emergency vehicles and fleets that needed to keep running did so without an issue.
“They’re the ones that are out in the front line. When COVID hit and everything shut down, these guys were still working,” said Trish Serratore, senior vice president of communications for ASE. “They were out there trying to keep our cars running when they were sitting in the driveway, getting flat spots and dead batteries. They were out there trying to keep us going. So part of what we do is we want to be sure that they get the recognition they deserve.”
Operating since 1972, Serratore estimated that ASE is one of the oldest occupational credentialing organizations in both Canada and the United States.
“And we continue to be the only third-party independent credential for the automotive service and repair industry,” she explained. “The OEMs have theirs and some of the parts companies have theirs, but we’re the only international third party one. It’s the credential created by the industry for the industry. Our mission is really to serve the folks that take the ASE exams.”
She likes to compare ASE to Switzerland. It’s neutral. ASE serves all parts of the automotive industry, from the original equipment manufacturers to the aftermarket to the fleets. In all, the group provides 54 tests in 12 areas.
“We’re covering everybody except the marine guys and the motorcycle guys,” Sarreatore explained. “If you drive a bus or you drive a truck, we were there for you.”
But ASE doesn’t just cover the automotive technician. The organization offers support for those working the parts counter and service advisors.
“So we’re really covering a credential for all the people who are talking or working on behalf of the car owner,” Serratore told CARS. “You come in and you talk to the service guy, he talks to the technician, and the technician is talking to the parts guy. So what’s nice about this is — this credential ties everybody together. And I think that’s important for our industry since we’re all doing our own thing back there, if you will.”
“Our goal in the past has always been: What does the industry need and how can ASE support that?”
But as vehicle technology changes, the challenge grows for the organization to ensure service professionals are kept on top of their learning.
“Our goal in the past has always been: What does the industry need and how can ASE support that?” Sarreatore explained.
And so ASE recently released advanced level testing, identified as L1, L2 and L3. In L1, the focus is on diagnostics; L2 focuses on truck electronics; and L3 is the hybrid test.
“So we’re really trying to be available and be relevant for our folks,” Sarreatore said in an interview.
The group is looking at an ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) test that will probably come out in the summer. ASE is also exploring how to address high voltage in vehicles from a safety perspective.
“We want to be sure that anybody who’s working on those vehicles understands the safety aspects,” Sarreatore said.
Testing is also available in Spanish. For French- Canadian professionals, unfortunately, testing in their language isn’t available yet, though ASE has “dabbled” with it.
“I think we’ll probably have to address that again at some point,” Sarreatore noted.
“But somebody has got to come tell students and make it known to the students, the parents, the counsellors to say that we’ve got lots of opportunities in this training program over here that we support and we’re involved with, that’s the way into the industry.”
Going forward from an educational standpoint, ASE is working more on bridging the gap between what repair and service shops need and what schools are teaching students, explained Mike Coley, ASE Education Foundation president.
“One of the challenges that the local schools have, and I think this is true everywhere, is they need input and support from local employers — the dealers, the independent shops, the fleet shops — to come in and help them understand: What are the skills that are most critical for an entry-level student to have so they can come in?” he told CARS.
It’s part of a strategy to encourage more young people to take up the trades and work in the automotive industry. After all, maybe someone doesn’t want to turn a wrench for their whole life. But the industry has many other career opportunities, like service writers, managers, parts experts. Having an automotive education opens doors to those positions.
“But somebody has got to come tell students and make it known to the students, the parents, the counsellors to say that we’ve got lots of opportunities in this training program over here that we support and we’re involved with, that’s the way into the industry,” Coley said.
Whenever he has a chance, he presses the fact that the businesses in the automotive industry isn’t competing with each other to find talent.
“We’re competing with wind power, with welding, with advanced machining — all the other advanced skilled trades — for the same students that have good mechanical aptitude, enjoy working with their hands and enjoy solving problems for their customers,” Coley said. “So we’ve got to attract those students and show them the career opportunities that are available in our industry.”