Master Auto Technician Tells Students Learning Never Stops

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Popping the hood on a car to check the engine isn’t quite the same these days as laptops and diagnostic testing are the main tools used by automotive technicians.

While those technical skills are important, they simply don’t replace the basic knowledge of cars and some of the elbow grease it takes to get drivers back on the road, according to Nick Deniakis, master technician, Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC.

Deniakis took students on a virtual tour of the service area Friday, highlighting a career as an automotive technician. It was the last session in a week-long event — Mahoning County Educational Service Center’s Virtual Exploration Tour 2020 — that gave students in 20 school districts a glimpse at career opportunities. 

Business and community professionals shared insights on careers using online distance learning. After schools were closed because of the coronavirus, career counselors from MCESC replaced in-person, hands-on bus visits to area businesses to explore career options with professionals providing one-hour video conferences.

Deniakis has worked at Sweeney eight years and as a technician 15 years. His passion for cars dates to when he was a little boy, he said. While techniques have changed, the passion to fix things remains.

“Today’s cars are more and more complex,” he told students. “Training never quits. There’s always continuing education when you’re doing this job.”

There are eight different fields of training and certification by GM in order to become a master technician and recertification is required every five years. 

Deniakis started at the dealership in the quick-service department, changing oil and brakes and simple maintenance work before becoming a line technician. He encouraged students to keep up with education, training and to have the right attitude to progress in the field.

He echoed a similar theme that professionals touted all week, no matter the profession, students need to learn how to hone their soft skills. 

“You need to have great attendance, be timely and not call off for silly reasons, showing a lot of initiative and drive and be able to work as a team,” Deniakis said.

Nick Deniakis, master technician at Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, and Jill Mayfield, career counselor at MCESC.

Arrione Bumgardner, who graduated from Columbiana Career and Technical Center and now works for Sweeney, demonstrated how he uses a technician’s main tool, a computer, to work on a Sierra Denali truck. Bumgardner hooked up a scan tool that works off Bluetooth to communicate with a laptop. It runs diagnostics to 35 or more modules, or basic small computers in the vehicle. 

With the touch a few key strokes, the laptop was able to operate the windshield wipers. The computers use GM software and run through multiple diagnostic tests to help technicians determine possible problems on vehicles, from wiring and electrical to replacing small motors that run the parts.

Devon Smith has been a technician for 25 years and today is the service department foreman at Sweeney’s.

“I just like being able to take something that’s broken and make it work again,” he said.

More than 20 students asked questions — from compensation to apprenticeship opportunities to classes in high school that could be beneficial toward a career as an automotive technician. 

Deniakis suggested students have basic math skills, know measurements, take science classes. Any experience with auto work is a plus, he added.

Deniakis, a Boardman High School graduate, said he took typing classes. He knew working on a computer would be necessary.

“I wanted to be efficient. The last thing you do is spend a lot time typing,” he said.

For others, he said, any knowledge you have working as a mechanic is helpful, even it was being out in the garage with your dad or grandfather. He gained experience working for former teacher who opened his own garage. After school he would work at the garage, learning everything he could. 

Deniakis told students if they have the ability to attend a career center, it would give them a head start on their career as an automotive technician. Numerous opportunities exist in the field, especially at Sweeney, he said, from detailers to line technicians, sales and service and marketing. 

Asked his favorite car to work on, Deniakis said he prefers working on truck lines, but personally, he likes old muscle cars.

“I’m restoring an old Camaro. It’s my hobby in my spare time,” he said. 

While technical skills were highlighted, students also asked for tips on interviewing for jobs.

Deniakis said some of the same techniques apply as with any job interview, but he suggested students do some basic research on companies so they talk about the company during the interview. He used Sweeney as an example, a company that has been around since 1921.

Jill Mayfield, career counselor for Mahoning County Educational Service Center, suggested being creative during the interview. She used an example of a recent student who was hired at Sweeney as a car detailer. 

“After the interview was over, he asked them [interviewers] if they could take a moment to come outside. He had detailed his own car and wanted to show them his skills,” she said. “They basically hired him on the spot.”

Deniakis said no matter how skilled an individual is, it all goes back to having the right attitude and being committed to being the best employee you can be. 

Pictured at top: Ararrion Bumgardner, certified technician, Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.