Interview with ASE Vice President Tony Molla

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TonyMollaWhile the average car owner may not know exactly what ASE does, the repair industry standards set by this organization are something they benefit from everyday. We spoke with ASE’s vice president of communications, Tony Molla, about why ASE-certified technicians are a hallmark of the highest performing repair shops across the U.S. and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for the profession.

Kristen Stanton (KS): Thanks so much for speaking with us, Tony. As a company that serves car owners, RepairPal sees a lot of mistrust among consumers for mechanics. We know there are great repair shops across the U.S. who are doing high-quality work and charging fair prices for that work – and we believe we work with the best of them. But it’s true there are some bad apples who have spoiled the bunch. In our research, just this year, we found that 66% of car owners feel they’ve already been ripped off by a mechanic. Of course, the press likes to seize on these controversial stories in the name of investigative journalism to get everyone riled up. You and I both know this is not an accurate reflection of the industry. How does ASE combat the bad reputation that the auto repair industry has?

Tony Molla (TM): As a non-profit, ASE works to give consumers peace of mind by testing and certifying automotive professionals and maintaining high quality standards for auto repair. If you look at our name, it says it all – it’s not just the “National Institute for Automotive Service” – it’s the “National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.” The best repair shops and technicians take great pride in their knowledge, their skills, and their craft, and they’re always upping their game. We want to recognize these automotive professionals. This is good for car owners. We are very focused on spreading this positive message and we’re grateful to companies like yours that are helping to educate consumers.




 Hear what Joe Jacobs, owner of D.W. Cambell Tire and Auto Service, has to say about the importance of ASE certification.

KS: We’ve seen that when you make it easy for car owners to find the best shops, they will readily “commit” to that shop. When RepairPal moved from being a paid listings website to one that identifies and certifies high-caliber shops, the calls and service appointment requests at those shops increased, literally, tenfold. Can you give us some examples of how ASE-certification helps drive more business for a shop?

TM: We see this on a number of levels. To begin, the productivity level of ASE-certified technicians is higher. Also, ASE-certified technicians do it right the first time: they dramatically decrease the number of times a car owner needs to return to the shop because something was missed or the problem they came in for wasn’t corrected. They can also accurately identify the right parts that need to be used, which helps drive parts sales. Customer satisfaction, long-term customers, and referrals from happy customers are the lifeblood of any business, including repair shops, and ASE certification drives that.

KS: Does a certain type of person go through ASE testing and certification?

TM: We get that question all the time: Does ASE make great technicians or do great technicians come to ASE for certification? The answer is: It doesn’t matter. What matters is the person working on your car has the qualities you’d look for in a physician or a teacher: knowledge, education, experience, skills, and integrity. That’s why we say ASE certification is the hallmark of high-performing repair shops and technicians.

KS: A couple of weeks ago, I was at the NAPA AutoCare conference in Spokane, and Walt Cummings, one of your trainers, mentioned that there is a shortage of ASE-certified master technicians in the U.S. In fact, he said there are fewer than 5,000 who are certified to work on school buses. What is ASE doing to address this shortage? 

TM: The real issue is that of the 333,000 automotive professionals who hold ASE certifications, the average age is 42 years old. Truck techs are even older – with an average age of 52-53. So many are baby boomers who are going to be retiring in the next 7-12 years. Just to keep up with attrition, we are going to need 60,000-75,000 new certified technicians. So, yes, a shortage is looming. The good thing is – this is a tremendous opportunity and the job prospects are outstanding. Techs with 10-15 years of experience can make $75,000-$80,000 per year, relative to where they’re working. Some will work in dealerships, others with independents, and some will open their own shops.

KS: What changes do you see happening in the profession and in the skills needed to become expert technicians?

TM: The basic aptitudes and skills needed are similar to those needed in many other professions today: science, math, and communication skills, and also an interest in and basic understanding of electronics. Today’s automotive technician is essentially a network engineer. The industry is changing because cars are so heavily electronic today.

To be on top of your game as an automotive technician, you need to be a person who wants to continually learn – because this is a high tech career that is evolving quickly. So, you see why great technicians are so valuable. You are looking at least two years of high school, two more years for an associate’s degree, and then years of experience to become great at the job. 

KS: How is ASE adapting its testing and certification criteria to meet the dynamics of this market?

TM: Today, 70% of the work is in maintenance and light repair. So, we developed the G1 certification in automotive maintenance and light repair. This can be a first stepping-stone for many on the road to becoming a master technician. We’ve developed a Blue Seal recognition of shops where a large percentage of the technicians are ASE-certified. And in January 2015, we’ll introduce a certification in hybrid vehicles.

KS: Thanks so much Tony. We appreciate the great work you and the whole team are doing at ASE. 

TM: Great to talk with you today!

 

Tony Molla is the Vice President of Communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), based in Leesburg, VA. With over 35 years experience in the automotive service industry, Tony has held positions at all levels, including technician, service manager, parts store manager, new car sales and automotive technical editor writing service manuals for the Chilton Book Company. He has authored more than a dozen technical and car care manuals for both professional technicians and consumers. 

Prior to joining ASE in January, 2000, Tony spent nine years as the Editorial Director of Motor Age magazine and Automotive Body Repair News (ABRN). He is an ASE certified automotive technician, past president of the Automotive Communications Council, and a regular presenter and moderator at many industry events annually. Tony is an honorary lifetime member of the Mobile Air Conditioning Society Worldwide (MACS), and has been honored with the Collision Industry Conference Q Award, several Outstanding Editorial Achievement awards, two Society of Automotive Journalists MOTO awards, and a Jesse H. Neal Editorial Award for his editorials in Motor Age Magazine. He was most recently honored with the Northwood University Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award in 2012.

 

Kristen Stanton is the VP of B2B marketing and business development at RepairPal.

 

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