Article > Opinion

The ASE Certification Debate


Once every other month or so, I get an email or a phone call from a technician who is upset that ASE certifies parts specialists. Here's my response.

"How dare you give these counter-types and phone salesmen a credential that denotes even a hint of the same expertise required of technicians to earn the ASE credential?" is the usual question posed to me.

These technician professionals complain that the ASE Parts Specialist Certification devalues their own ASE technician certifications. Having been a longtime parts specialist, and prior to that, a technician, the first few times that I dealt with this type of attitude, it made my blood boil. But I soon came to realize that these were technicians who took so much pride in their ASE credentials that they were compelled to contact me.

In 1992, the ASE Board of Directors, which at the time was made up solely of individuals from the automotive repair industry, thought that it would be an excellent idea to have a tool for technicians, consumers and employers to help them judge the abilities of parts specialists. At the request of the industry, a job study was conducted to determine the breadth and depth of the skills and technology involved in the parts specialist's job, and whether those skills could be reliably assessed through a written test. The findings were presented to the ASE Board for a vote, and the members approved the credential. The ASE Board believes that automotive professionals of various disciplines should have the opportunity to voluntarily earn a professional credential that establishes their knowledge of the skills required to perform their job competently. Professionals' efforts to educate themselves to the point that they can pass a certification test, benefits everyone in the industry, as well as consumers.

I don't think there's a technician anywhere who would disagree that a parts specialist, good or bad, can have a profound affect on shop productivity. Getting the right part the first time, getting everything you need to complete the work and receiving accurate information on availability and delivery time saves many hours everyday for technicians. Technicians tell us on a regular basis that it's very easy to tell the difference between a parts specialist who can pass the test required for certification and one who cannot. My own experience at parts stores reinforces this on a regular basis. I still do most of the work on my own vehicles and sometimes on the vehicles of family and friends. Occasionally I find myself across the counter from a person struggling with my application. I hate that uneasy felling that perhaps, when I arrive back at my garage, I won't have the proper part, or I won't have everything I need to complete the job. While at the counter, if I spot a counterperson wearing the ASE patch, I begin to think about how I can migrate over to their line or draw them into the transaction. My experience tells me they know the right questions to ask, and I can then comfortably leave the store with everything I need.

The Test
The ASE Parts Specialists Tests continue to be among the most difficult tests that ASE administers. The industry expects parts specialists to have a very broad range of knowledge. Whereas a technician can take individual tests on engine repair, brakes, automatic transmissions, etc., a parts specialist must answer questions on 15 different vehicle systems, as well as questions on general store operations, customer relations, sales skills, catalog skills, vehicle identification, inventory management and merchandizing. The industry also expects parts specialists to be able to identify the components of vehicle systems, know their function, know how they relate to other vehicle systems and be able to give basic use and installation instructions.

Parts specialists are not expected to be able to diagnose vehicle problems beyond the most basic of concerns. There are technicians who think that parts specialists are taking business away from them with some of the services they perform for customers. But, many parts specialists provide a service to the repair industry by determining when DIY customers are Òin over their heads" and then refer them to a professional technician. Technicians probably receive far more work this way than they realize. This is not to say that I am a proponent of the diagnostic services that some parts stores have recently begun to offer, such as interpreting diagnostic trouble codes. I believe, far too often, these services result in the sale of unnecessary parts.

Keep in mind, too, there are many competent technicians that have made the transition to parts specialist because of bad backs or knees, or just a desire to escape the stress of flat-rate. These folks are capable of giving valuable advice to consumers. But once again, they, better than anyone, know how complicated repairs can be, and they know when it's time for a consumer to seek out a professional technician. The ASE Parts Specialist Credential supports " healthy collaboration" between technicians and parts specialists by setting standards that help parts specialists understand where the reasonable limits of their job should be with consumers.

As in all areas of the automotive industry, finding, cultivating and keeping good employees is difficult. Not only do parts stores compete regularly with each other for good parts specialists, but employees who who show an aptitude for technical issues and possess good customer relations and sales skills are in high demand throughout the business world. One important way to help retain these individuals is by providing them with a means to earn a professional credential. Certification helps parts specialists feel as though they truly have a stake in this industry. It shows they have invested a lot of time and effort in their career and gives them another rung to scale in their career ladder.

ASE's certification program both for technicians and parts specialists seeks to grow, promote and develop certified professionals who can stand out in front as examples of excellence in the automotive industry. Their willingness to voluntarily seek out a professional credential says a lot about their dedication to their profession, their confidence in their skills and their desire to enhance the image of the automotive industry.

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