Reprinted with permission of Tire Business
By William Schertz, Tire Business staff
OAKLAND, Calif. (June 23, 2015) — Jill Trotta’s first foray into automotive service began with a bug — more specifically, a Beetle, of the Volkswagen variety.
Ms. Trotta, 46, who recently was named director of RepairPal Inc.’s Automotive Professional Group after two years as certification manager for the San Francisco-based firm, has spent 25 years in the automotive industry. She credits that career choice to her uncle and a wonky car.
Fresh out of college in 1989, Ms. Trotta bought a used 1972 VW Beetle, a model that was notorious for mechanical problems. She was advised to make the purchase by her uncle, an automotive mechanic, who felt it would be better to teach her to fix her own vehicle than to just do it for her.
“The Bug kept breaking down, which is what Volkswagen Bugs do,” she told Tire Business. “The good thing about a Bug though is that when it does break down you can fix it with a matchbook and a paper clip.
“It kept breaking down, and (my uncle) encouraged me to fix this car,” she continued. “And he told me to go buy the ‘Idiot’s Guide,’ and if I couldn’t fix it then to come see him, and he would help me.
“I did. I bought the ‘Idiot’s Guide,’ and I learned to fix my car.”
After earning her degree from the University of Oregon, Ms. Trotta briefly worked as a recreational therapist at a home for adults with developmental disabilities before deciding to enroll in the automotive program at the Sequoia Institute (now Wyotech) in Free¬mont, Calif.
Bugged by TV ad
“One day I was watching TV, and I was really not happy with what I was doing,” she continued. “…It didn’t speak to me. There was a commercial that came on TV that said, ‘You too could become an automotive technician.’ And I did. I did an 18-month program in nine months and started out.”
Ms. Trotta began her automotive career working as a technician for a few years, including a stint at the now defunct Phoenix Auto repair center in Oakland. The owner, Pam Spence, helped Ms. Trotta develop her customer service skills.
“She identified the skills in me that it takes to really interact with people in a positive way, and she made me a service advisor,” she said. “From there, I worked up into management and dealerships and even had a partnership I started in Redwood City (California). I’ve done a lot of things.”
She spent the next two decades working in service advisor and management roles for a variety of car dealerships, independent service shops and parts dealers in and around the San Francisco Bay area, before deciding to try her hand at something else.
In 2013, she came across a Craigslist ad by RepairPal — still a fledgling company at the time — looking for automotive service professionals who wanted a change.
Ms. Trotta accepted an offer to work for the firm as its certification manager. In her new role, she was tasked with identifying and evaluating technically qualified and customer service-oriented automotive shops to become RepairPal-certified businesses. She told Tire Business the transition wasn’t a seamless one.
“My car knowledge is really strong,” she said. “I’m ASE-certified, I’ve been in the field over 20 years and I have a variety of experiences between dealerships and independent shops and parts and service. I’m very well rounded in that area, but coming in here I didn’t really know what a Google doc was.
“When you’re talking about querying databases, and you’re talking about collecting data and you’re talking about developing spreadsheets and all these things that had to be developed, I didn’t even know the basic stuff that I had to learn.
“I’ve learned it. Can’t say I’ve mastered it, but I’d say I’m very proficient.”
Ms. Trotta credited her participation on the Car Care Council (CCC) Women’s Board and Executive Committee with helping her to achieve success in her new role.
“Everybody’s really supportive of each other. There’s a really strong mentorship program where you partner up with somebody who’s from a similar type situation, and that’s been totally amazing. It truly personally helped me in my career because I came out of the regular car dealership/independent shop world to RepairPal, which is more of a tech corporate setting…. My mentor has really helped me navigate situations and kind of normalized things a bit for me.”
While Ms. Trotta has worked with many women in the industry during her career, most of her coworkers over the years have been men. She said she doesn’t feel she’s experienced gender discrimination in her career, but that as a woman in a male-dominated industry she is motivated to “constantly be pushing for that next level.”
“I actually feel like, for me, I’ve always worked to be very proficient…. I always go to training; I always make sure I’m on top of my game. I’ve found myself to be really sought after in the industry.
“What you have to realize, too, in the industry is that when you’re a woman in the industry you stand out,” she added. “I’ve always taken that really to heart and made sure that I was a great example of what a woman could do in the automotive industry.”
In many instances Ms. Trotta said she has found that being a woman is beneficial — especially from a customer service standpoint.
“As long as you know what you’re doing, when people come in and they see a woman (in the shop) they’re a little more disarmed and a little more likely to trust…. Women are nurturers, and sometimes people need their hand held when they’re getting their car fixed,” she said.
According to Ms. Trotta, female customers especially are likely to relate better to a woman at the counter.
“For women, when cars break down, their lives break down,” she said. “They can’t get their kids to soccer, they can’t do all the things they need to do, so it becomes kind of a mini crisis. I think as a woman you’re a little better at handling those types of crises and being a little more helpful in those kinds of situations.”
For Ms. Trotta, the biggest challenge as a woman in the industry has more to do with assumptions made about men in the industry.
“When (men) come into a situation, into a job, it is often assumed that they know what they’re doing, and they’re given that credibility,” she said. “I feel like in most situations I’ve entered I’ve had to earn it, but it kind of goes with life. Things that you’re given you don’t appreciate as well as things that you’ve earned, and I really appreciate this field.”
At the same time, she said, most of her mentors in the industry have been men, including Bret Bodas, vice president of RepairPal.
“My boss now, the VP of our group, he is an incredible motivator and leader, and he’s my biggest fan,” she acknowledged.
“…In this field I’ve had really good men who’ve mentored me and taught me things and made sure that I was treated fairly and given a fair shot.”
Over the years, the industry has become more accessible to women seeking careers in the field, and Ms. Trotta said she believes there are more women working in the industry now than when she began her career. Noting it’s most prevalent to see them in management roles, she said there are also “quite a few” highly qualified women technicians.
But perhaps the biggest change over the course of her career has been the shift away from sexualized imagery that was traditionally associated with the automotive industry.
“One of the main differences I think is that when I came into the field there was still the calendars and the girls on cars and the whole sexualization of it,” she said. “There’s been a real shift away from that, and the imagery that goes with that. It’s different now…. That stuff doesn’t speak to women. Women don’t want to be around that, so I think that’s an important shift.”
Ms. Trotta said she’d “love to see more women in the industry” and believes that by encouraging them to enter into trade schools is important. Furthermore, she said the Car Care Council Women’s Board has scholarship programs and offers financial support to women entering the industry, whether they’re entering as technicians or in another capacity.
Specifically, she said, she’d like to see more female technicians.
“I think overall right now the industry is suffering from a shortage of qualified technicians, and it would be great to see women take those jobs,” she said.
“I think women are really well-suited for the job. Some of it is brute strength, but a lot of it is brain power, thinking, problem solving and all those kinds of things that women are good at.”
To reach this reporter: email@example.com; 330-865-6148; Twitter: @Will_Schertz