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Career Opportunities in the Automotive Industry
Open Up to Women

Courtney CaldwellNot so long ago, a woman's place in the automotive industry was behind a desk, typing letters, answering phones, and serving coffee. The mere thought of a woman being all that she could be was not even a thought.

Those were the days when you could still open the hood of a car and see the ground through the then-not-so-complicated engine. But times have changed, so have engines, so have women.

And, so has the auto industry, one of the largest industries in the world. Today, peek inside any major automaker window and you'll find not only women executives but women designers, engineers, and technicians. No longer the token female, many women are gravitating toward careers in the auto industry, and guess what? The industry wants you!

This month's cover story is one that defies and dispels all the theories, myths, and stereotypes of what and who women candidates are for this exciting and dynamic industry. Maureen Kempston Darkes is a perfect example of one of those outstanding success stories that puts to death the notion that many people have about the "glass ceiling," "no opportunities for women," or one of my personal favorites, "a woman's place."

Kempston Darkes started out as a receptionist at a Ford dealership while attending the University of Toronto. She went on to join GM's legal staff in 1975. Twenty years later, she has earned her way to CEO, breaking down barriers and opening new windows of opportunity for every woman.

Elsewhere in this issue are comments on Bobbi Gaunt, the newly appointed CEO and president of Ford Motor Company in Canada. She, too, has spent years climbing the corporate ladder of success, proving her capable worth through silent power and never giving in to the nevers, can'ts and not alloweds. Gaunt's success story will be detailed in an upcoming issue. Stay tuned.

Corvette unleashed its fifth generation on the public this year with an all-new shape and style. It is by far the most ergonomically friendly Corvette ever made. Why? In part because its new looks, thoughtful design, and user-friendly details were the result of including 10 women designers and engineers on the team, giving the American icon a much-needed face lift.

The point being that automakers, the once infamous macho-male-dominated ole-boys-club industry, have seen the light and not through the spaces of an uncomplicated engine. Industry echelon have come to recognize the importance and value of having a balanced perspective on the design of today's new vehicles and how they are marketed to consumers. And, since women comprise more than 50 percent of those consumers, automakers now comprehend the significance of reaching them. $80 billion* worth of significance.

The only way to reach that audience is to level the playing field by adding women, as well as minorities, to the fields of design, engineering, technology, marketing, sales, and yes, mechanics. Automakers are doing it and, in fact, have stepped-up the action.

In case you haven't heard, there's a crisis-level shortage of technicians in the auto industry. About 60,000 worth. By the year 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 168,000 automotive repair jobs alone will be created for some talented people. Why? Because cars now use computers and complex diagnostic systems to make them run longer, more efficiently, and environmentally cleaner. The more complicated they get, the more skills they'll require to design, evaluate, and repair.

The grease monkey named Tony, who fixed everybody's car with a wrench and a rag in the neighborhood gas station while his drop-out buddies hung around drinking beer from brown paper bags, pitching pennies and smoking cigarettes, is history. Brains are in. Brawn is out.

Today, when you walk into a dealership for service, your mechanic may very well appear in a white lab coat with a nametag that reads Diana Justen, a degreed technician specialist who hooks up a menagerie of plugs and wires to your complex engine and diagnoses it through a computer as if it were a human.

Opportunities in the auto industry are not only abundant, they also pay well, with starting salaries from $30,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on your education, training, experience, and skill level. So to students and parents we say, rethink your dreams and be sure to guide your talents into what you really want to be, not what you think you should be.

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