She knows how to use a wrench
Seeking to appeal to an increasing number of customers who are women, service stations and auto dealers are looking to hire more females to diversify their work staff.
So when Anna Barnett was hired at 309 Auto and Tire, New Tripoli, it wasn’t all that revolutionary.
“I always had an interest and love of cars but I never thought about [making it a career] being a female, but when I realized I had the potential, I took it by the horns,” Barnett said.
“When I first started working here, I did a lot of oil changes and tires but now it’s a little bit of everything, mostly service advising, customer service and service on the vehicle.
“I relay information to the customers and [work on] a lot of estimates but I work in the shop as well.
“You need to know a lot about automotive parts.”
Good interpersonal skills are also helpful.
“A lot of my job really includes problem solving and making sure my customers are happy, but in my position it’s also keeping my co-workers happy,” Barnett said. “If the technician finishes with the job, the customers want to know about it right away, so I need to prioritize what I’m doing and multi-task.”
Her boss George Jones, owner of 309 Auto and Tire, said Anna was referred by an LCTI instructor.
“Anna wanted to work on cars and get her hands dirty,” Jones said, “And, I said [between the shop and the counter] it would be a percentage.
Barnett began working in the auto tech industry in her senior year at Northern Lehigh High School, Slatington.
When she was 17, Anna worked at Kelly Buick GMC as part of her co-op program.
Shortly after, she landed her current job, where she’s been working for more than a year.
Barnett was first bitten by the auto tech bug in her ninth grade science class.
“We were learning about the basics, the four strokes of an engine,” Barnett said.
“The lesson stood out to me, the intake, combustion and exhaust. Just that alone sparked something in me.
“Every day is pretty much a new day of learning. LCTI is more about the vehicles and the function of the things.
“LCTI taught me so much, but you don’t get the real knowledge until you’re doing it. It’s constantly about learning.”
The job may appear taxing for her 5-foot 1-inch frame but Barnett has found ways to compensate.
“[Strength is] absolutely necessary and mandatory to lift a tire, for example,” Barnett said, adding she’s found “different little tips and tricks” using tools.
She also exercises.
“I definitely built up my arms and I work with a bunch of really strong guys,” Barnett said with a smile.
Customer Sue Carr said she was initially surprised by Barnett’s size.
“But then she picked up two tires, one in each hand and walked into the shop like this,” Carr said, as she demonstrated Barnett carrying the tires.
Barnett said there were a few girls in her automotive tech classes at LCTI but even fewer “stuck with it. A lot were born into the industry, but my dad is an accountant and my mom is a medical assistant at St Luke’s.”
Barnett is the youngest of five children. Besides her brother, there are her three sisters who work in fashion design, photo journalism and psychology.
“My parents supported me 110 percent. I’m so blessed with the family I have,” she said.
“My family always supported me, especially my brother,” said Barnett. “He’s always been my biggest motivator.”
An Air Force mechanic who works on planes, Barnett’s brother will soon be deployed to Kuwait.
“Without my LCTI teachers I wouldn’t know about this job,” reflected Barnett, who is also grateful to her boss, her coworkers and Jake, her boyfriend.
“They’re the people who give unending support and I just couldn’t thank them enough,” she said.
Barnett said that customers have mixed reactions when they first walk into the shop.
“People don’t expect it,” she said. “Some people will immediately ask to talk with one of the guys but some people don’t even question it. Some are a little standoffish but a good percentage don’t even think twice.”
“Customer response has been positive,” said Jones. “I hear a lot of compliments and she’s working a lot, about 54 hours a week.”
As far as joining the team at 309 Auto and Tire, it was an easy transition.
“I got along with all of them pretty much instantly,” she said.
“We’re coworkers here but friendly. We have each other’s backs. We work great together. The best part is we all laugh together and know when to be serious and when to joke around.”
Gender is not an issue at work.
“It’s no different than working with anybody else,” said Ralph Richardson, one of her coworkers.
“She’s learning. It’s a dirty job but girls that want to do it can do it. You’ve got to want to do it,” he said.
Barnett was never been put off by the dirt and grime associated with the auto shop.
“After a really long day of work, when I’m covered with grease and shop dust it’s a good feeling, because I know that I worked my hardest and did what I needed to do,” she said. “It’s that feeling of accomplishment. I love the smell of oil and the sound of impact guns in the morning.”
“Statistically across the country, 60 percent of our customers are female,” said Jones. “A lot of women are taking care of their own cars.”
The last five years has seen an increase in the number of women training to be auto technicians.
Before Barnett, Jones hired his own daughter to work at the shop.
“My daughter’s was a family story. She was always interested in cars but then she got married and had a few kids,” which halted her career for the time being, according to Jones.
Barnett bristles a little when she hears the term nontraditional career.
“In my eyes it shouldn’t even be a term,” she said. “You have full potential to do what you want to do. Throughout my time at LCTI, people constantly asked ‘what are you doing here?’ [At first] I felt I was the dirt under the totem pole.”
“Not everybody supported me especially at the dealership, but that didn’t stop me,” said Barnett. “I was a lot less experienced then, but you only live one time, so don’t let other people stand in your way. It’s not very often that a 17 year old would have this opportunity. I feel that I’m not just a number here.”
A lot has changed in automotive technology.
“When I first started I didn’t think about it, but even 30 years ago it was completely different,” said Barnett. “I like the mechanical part of things and would much rather do the mechanical work, but computers can help a lot as far as diagnostic. I’m a little nostalgic about how things used to work, but it’s amazing how far we’ve come.”
“My original plan was to learn about how to be a master mechanic,” said Barnett. “I’m so young that I still have so much time. My ultimate goal is to own my own shop, but before that I want to learn everything I can about cars. It’s almost like an addiction.”
“I was able to find my passion at a young age. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity,” she said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else. I belong where I am. You can do anything you want to do.”