It was 2009, the country was in financial crisis, and Lisa Graham had recently been laid off from her job as senior teller at a local branch of Washington Mutual Bank. To top it off, her 2000 Nissan Maxima was broken again. So, Lisa made a command decision; It was time to make a career change and stop paying automotive labor costs. It was time to become a mechanic.
They’re called “service technicians” these days but the training’s the same. Lisa entered the automotive program at Rogue Community College and instantly felt the animosity that accompanies being female in a male-dominated industry. “Some of ’em told me to go to nursing school. Some of ’em told me to go home,’ she says. “But I’m mouthy and I gave it right back to ’em. Then I proved myself.”
Upon graduating, one of Lisa’s first interviews was with Butler’s Service Manager, Curtis Hancock. Curtis says he knew he’d be hiring Lisa but, because she’s so qualified, he wasn’t sure for which position. “She gets along with everybody. She’s the one person who could’ve been a service advisor, work in the parts department, or work on cars.” So he let Lisa choose. She chose the latter. And Curtis is glad. “She has a great attitude and makes for a lighter atmosphere. She lightens the place,” he says. Robert Temple, Butler’s Warranty Administrator chimes in. “She’s super easy to work with. She has a great memory and learns quickly.” Both men agree: “She’s just awesome.”
She’s also a rarity. Joyce Quattrin with the non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) tells us “There is nothing official, but right now less than 1% of all ASE certified professionals [are] women.” Of the four woman in Lisa’s RCC program, only she and one other graduated. Even though she’s now bronze certified in Hyundai and Suzuki service Lisa admits she occasionally picks up a hint of sexism and has been known to avoid telling men what she does so as not to intimidate. But there’s a benefit to being female in the automotive industry, too. “Small hands help get into small [engine] places,” she quips with a smile. And the single mother of two is getting to pass her new skills onto at least one of her kids. “My 13-year old daughter’s not interested,’ she says. “But my 9-year old son, he wants to learn.”
So, how’s the unreliable Nissan Maxima? Lisa grins. “I’m still working on it.”