Katrina Nilsson's story shows how even without a traditional car mechanic's upbringing, she's been able to find her ideal role in the workshop.

Many mechanics will have gained a grasp on the trade working in their driveways and garages as teenagers before gaining official training in the classroom and professional workshops. However, the changing nature of the automotive industry as electric vehicles become more mainstream is opening up the door for a new crop of Aussie apprentices for whom a job in this industry might have once seemed out of reach.

With a national skills shortage to the tune of 38,000 professionals in the automotive sector and estimates of an additional 14,000 qualified EV technicians being required by 2030, MTA New South Wales was fortunate to see apprentice and trainee enrolments increase by 10 percent over the course of 2022.

One of those apprentices is Katrina Nilsson, a 20-year-old apprentice studying a Certificate III in Light Vehicle Mechanical Technology through MTA NSW who’s shown how a lack of pre-existing mechanical know-how hasn’t held her back from beginning to forge her own career in the automotive industry.

“I didn’t even know how to change a tyre by myself,” Katrina tells Drive Section. “I’ve always really loved cars, but I never knew anything about them.”

Originally, Katrina had started out in beauty therapy – she says she’s always preferred working with her hands over sitting at a desk all day – but after the death of her petrolhead partner in a car accident who she’d encouraged to take up a career as a mechanic himself, she was inspired to go for it herself.

Despite entering into what is a male-dominated field, Katrina says she “honestly [doesn’t] mind it”, but that “we do tend to see a lot more girls now. Not many, but there’s a lot more than there would have been five years ago.”

Regardless, she speaks highly of the people she’s met through her journey in the automotive industry so far. “I’ve met a lot of good people and made a lot of good friends, and I don’t have anything bad to say about it.”

What’s also clear is how Katrina’s passion for cars has developed through working on them and expanding her mechanical knowledge, as she’s already forming plans for her pride and joy, a 1983 Datsun ute she inherited from her grandfather.

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She recounts how when he’d occasionally pick her up after school, she would “get so excited to see the Datsun instead of a little Toyota Camry.” But now that it’s hers, she’s forming big plans for it.

“I want to take her to Summernats one day. The bodywork isn’t the best, she doesn’t have the nicest paint, and honestly, I’m doing a full [SR20] engine swap. That is, when I’ve saved up the money obviously, but I’ve got a lot of plans for the ute.”

Although money – and, of course, time – might be limiting factors, Katrina’s passion for this ute is clear from how she speaks about it, and with her newly developing mechanical skills, at least the ability to pull those plans off is something she’s on the right path towards.

What Katrina’s experience proves most, though, is that anyone from any background can forge a career for themselves in the automotive industry, and that it’s sure to develop your love of cars outside of the workshop, too. With these skills in high demand, it’s also sure to prove to be a fruitful career in the long-run as well.

Patrick Jackson
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