Technician vs. Mechanic

June 7, 2016

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Do you still call a restaurant server a waiter? What about a flight attendant — a stewardess? Is a nail technician a manicurist? And are your agency’s fleet technicians called mechanics?

Although many fleets have technicians working on the shop floor, many others call these same employees mechanics. Is there a difference? While you may think it doesn’t matter what technicians are called if they get the same pay, moving toward the technician title adds professionalism to the industry and better reflects what modern technicians actually do.

Paul Condran, fleet services manager for the City of Culver City, Calif., believes the mechanic title is outdated for the duties of fleet technicians.

“I was always of the opinion that the term mechanic really didn’t denote what my staff was actually responsible for,” he said. “We use so many advanced technologies, like vehicle technology and computer technology, well beyond alternative fuels. The electronic systems on transit vehicles, on refuse trucks, and on other fleet units continue to change.”

Three years ago, he changed staff titles, moving from mechanic, assistant mechanic, and equipment service worker to sr. fleet services technician, fleet services technician, and fleet services assistant.

It’s a way to distinguish from facilities that may only do preventive maintenance and also to show that these employees don’t just perform fluid changes, but are resonsible for vehicles from acquisition to remarketing.

About 10 years ago, he also had the division name changed from the City Garage to Equipment Maintenance and Fleet Services Division.

“We’re not some place you park your car in, first of all,” he explained. And garage “conjured up some old, dingy facility that wasn’t really a modern, well-maintained, clean facility.”

While it’s rare, I do see some fleets called garages, and I always make a note of it because the term seems outdated.

I understand that every fleet or garage has its own way of labeling things. I had my brakes replaced at a facility that seemed to use both terms, mechanic and technician, depending on skill set.

Maybe your “mechanics” don’t care all that much. What’s the big deal anyway, right?

But think about how those outside the industry view these titles. Does your fleet website talk about technicians or mechanics? Does your HR department recruit technicians or mechanics? Does a city council document list a recommendation from fleet or from the garage? Could one term suggest more professionalism than the other?

By pushing forward a name that leaves a more professional impression of the organization, and perhaps more accurately reflects the evolved job responsibilities of your technicians, you’re helping move the industry forward.

Between that and fleet managers advocating for higher pay for public sector technicians, in the form of job reclassification, certification incentives, and perhaps additional pay for specific skill sets, the public fleet industry can become a place where people aspire to work.

I’ll admit I still sometimes refer to the server as a waiter. But the more I hear the new terms, the more likely I’ll repeat them.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. That may work for roses, but if you’re trying to make some changes to the fleet industry, a name can mean a lot.

What are your thoughts? Did you push for switching from “mechanic” to “technician,” and what motivated you to do so?


  1. 1. mark stinson [ June 08, 2016 @ 11:38AM ]

    I agree with this article 100% and because of it I will now be pushing our administration to reflect a name change for our technicians. Currently there job titles say mechanic, by reflecting the new term technician this sends a signal to our staff that we value there skills and abilities and want to portray this to our internal customers. Thanks for getting this fleet headed in the wright direction.

  2. 2. kelly Reagan [ June 08, 2016 @ 12:33PM ]

    Great article - Paul you are spot on with your assessment. Technician is the correct title. The days of owning a large hammer and a ratchet set are simply over. Our Technicians are highly trained diagnosticians with an innate ability to track down and remedy issues on our vehicles and equipment. Our Technicians are well versed in using lap tops with series ports to plug into the vehicles numerous computers by reading codes. Then dissect any problem to address a failed component. The days of being a "parts changer" are over and we have incredible talent in our fleet to prove it. Keep up the great work Paul!

  3. 3. Dale Collins [ June 13, 2016 @ 12:36PM ]

    I could not agree more Paul, soon after I earned the supervisors position I was able to change our titles from "the auto shop" to fleet services and mechanic I/II and senior to technician I/II and senior technician. In the times we live in and how fast technology is advancing a mechanics title just doesn't fit any longer, my staff is not only skilled in mechanical systems but in the advanced areas necessary to keep today's modern fleets up and running for our customers. Today’s fleet technicians are true professionals in every way. The next challenge is finding the next generation of professional fleet technicians considering the legions eligible for retirement in the next decade.

  4. 4. John Reel [ June 29, 2016 @ 12:12PM ]

    Nice Story. I'll be meeting with our Fleet Director and recommending that our Mechanic IIs and Mechanic IIIs, be changed to Technician IIs and IIIs. The image of a "knuckle buster" is long gone. Our Technicians utilize computers and computer equipment for diagnostic purposes, research, and educational purposes. Great article.

  5. 5. Alan Polnitz [ August 04, 2016 @ 05:26AM ]

    This story only tells part of the story. At some workplaces, "technician" denotes positions at or near the bottom of the pay scale. Job titles like "parking technician," "grounds technician," etc., are considered pretty much entry-level positions not unlike a "French fry technician" would be at a fast-food restaurant. In certain work environments a fancy title like "technician" or "associate" can have a negative connotation: low pay. Employees should be rightfully suspicious, for example, when their titles are changed from "sales clerk" to "sales associate" because it could signal a wage freeze or benefit reduction. Entities that still use the term "technician" in this manner might not be in step with the times, but they exist nonetheless. Employers should be sensitive to these facts and take care not to unintentionally denigrate employees with well-intended job titles.

  6. 6. Alan Polnitz [ August 04, 2016 @ 07:28AM ]

    By the way, the technician versus mechanic discussion is at least thirty years old so this is hardly new material. I worked in a shop back in the mid 1980s where we had Service Technicians instead of mechanics. Here is a related story, however, that is a bit more current and could provide some actual news: how many facilities still use sexist terms like foreman, policeman, etc., to denote certain employment positions?

  7. 7. Mike O'Hara [ August 11, 2016 @ 12:27PM ]

    Well Thai, it looks like I am going to be the lone dissenter concerning this article. I still consider myself a mechanic (I am the Fleet Administrator now) and my employees on the shop floor are all mechanics too. This change to which you are referring began in late 80’s if I recall correctly. I was against it then and I still am today.
    I feel the problem is not about the title, it’s about an industry that does not require licensing, certification or any other means to identify a minimum skill set to attain the title. Most of the examples you cite in your article are changes made to gender neutralize titles, not add prestige to them.
    I feel the industry is making a mistake by recommending this change. The title ‘mechanic’ is better suited for a few reasons. First, it is a title that hardly ever needs further explanation. Tell someone in a social setting that you are a mechanic and their reply will have something to do with vehicles 90+ percent of the time. Tell them you are a technician and see how many fields you go through before you get to anything automotive.
    Second, the term technician does not exude the skill set that today’s personnel have or need. Go to a quick lube shop and what will you find? A ‘Lube Technician’. Order cable TV and who comes to install it? A ‘Cable Technician’. Do these titles convey their complete understanding of the systems they are working with?
    Third, the term technician is overused. Try this easy test. Google the word ‘technician’, then page through until you find any reference to the automotive industry. When I tried it I found the ASE website near the bottom of Page 4. When I Google mechanic, multiple references on Page 1.
    I do agree there needs to be some way to convey the monumental increases in the complexity of this industry, but a title change isn’t the answer.

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Thi Dao

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Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.

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