This is a call for all Red Seal Automotive Service Technicians to stand up and be counted.
Some of you represent the endorsement well. Some of you abuse the endorsement. Many of you think it means you are qualified when you are not. And lots of you do not understand the responsibility that comes with that designation.
Foudned in 1959, The Red Seal Program for Automotive Service Technicians is administered by The Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA). You can achieve the The Red Seal Endorsement (RSE) once you have become a journeyperson.
The Red Seal Program is the envy of our neighbours to the south, since there is no equivalent federal certification for automotive service technicians in the U.S. Many shop owners in the States I speak with are jealous of what we have; they say, at least you know what you are getting when someone has a certain level of schooling, apprenticeship, journeyperson status, and an Interprovincial Red Seal License. However, while in many cases we do get what we are expecting, too often we don’t, and it seems to be getting worse.
This is where I think things get muddy in the minds of many Canadians in the trade. Some people think that the number of hours worked is the important part. But what if those hours were all spent doing oil changes and tire changeovers? Some people think the three (or four) levels of schooling that apprentices take is the ticket. But what if the curriculum at the college they attend has not been updated in 20 years? What if the current instructors haven’t worked on a vehicle newer than a 2010?
Then there is the wage structure. There are many provincial guidelines that state that an apprentice wage should be half of that of a journeyperson, rising each year until it matches the journeyperson wage in four years. Which journeyperson – the highest paid, the most skilled, the one with the most and best tools? Or the newest, least productive, and least equipped journeyperson? I hear that, in union settings in some other trades, as soon as someone gets their Red Seal, they get paid exactly the same as the electrician who has 40 years’ experience. The pay scale is based on certification, not on skill, knowledge, or experience.
Don’t get me wrong; I want the technicians and apprentices I work with to be the best paid in the industry. A third-year apprentice I know who is currently getting paid $28 an hour works hard, follows the company systems and procedures, looks up all procedures on jobs he has not done before, goes to all the company-sponsored training and has invested in his tools. I also know a few licensed Red Seal technicians who get paid over $32 an hour, who cherry-pick the work on vehicles, refuse to work on certain vehicles, don’t follow company systems and procedures, refuse to take training, and can’t diagnose their way out of a paper bag. They complain daily about their crappy job, and whine that they don’t get paid enough to do this crap.
Full disclosure, I am not a Red Seal Automotive Technician. I have had to rely on journeypersons my whole career in ownership and management. I was spoiled by one journeyman I worked with for 15 years. He took his role as the supervisor of the apprentices very seriously. He did not see apprentices as cheap sources of labour, or someone to do all the grunt work. He saw them as the future of the industry; in fact he contributed to the development of six apprentice automotive technicians. In part, he did it by reviewing their development. He was part of reviewing their grades at school, and gave them practical, hands-on training and evaluation by using the apprentices’ Blue Book. He would tick off the boxes only when someone was qualified to perform that particular repair or service.
So what am I asking for? In reality, a Red Seal Endorsement means that you have spent the required hours working on vehicles, that you have had the four levels of school and that a journeyperson has been willing to sign for you. That is all it means.
It does not mean you know it all. It does not mean you are worth the highest wage in the shop. It does not mean that you are the best. All other professionals with designations, such as accountants and engineers, have not experienced everything and aren’t always the highest paid when then are newly certified. But what holds them accountable? The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, and the Canadian Society of Professional Engineers. If there is any misconduct on their part, they get disciplined. We don’t have anything like that, but maybe we should.
Let’s look at this from the customer’s point of view. When the sign on your shop says that you have licensed technicians working for you, they don’t know if that technician has been licensed for one year or 20 years. But they are expecting the same conduct regardless of who works on their car. So what is professional conduct? No cherry-picking work; tell the truth; follow shop systems and procedures; follow repair and testing procedures; don’t guess, make the judgment calls and stand behind them. And most of all, when you don’t know something, admit it, and learn where to find the answer you are looking for.
To me a good Red Seal Automotive Service Technician is proud of their work, but not too proud to ask for help, admits when they are wrong, knows how to research when they don’t know something, and most of all has the vehicle owner’s best interest at heart. Oh yeah, and are willing to teach others.