Pictured from left to right: Hailey Hedrick, Anthony Donno, Troy Jackson. Photo courtesy of Allen Slate
The pandemic has made “going out” a much more challenging proposition these days. But just because your vehicle might be sitting more than you’re used to doesn’t mean you can afford to put off repairs when they’re needed. That’s why automotive technicians like SkillsUSA member Hailey Hedrick are so essential.
Hedrick is a recent graduate of Skyline High School in Mesa, Ariz., where she studied automotive technology in the classroom of instructor and SkillsUSA advisor Allen Slate. “He’s the man who really pushed me to keep going and work harder,” Hedrick says with affection.
“SkillsUSA gives my students the opportunity to see other avenues available to them as far as career choices,” Slate says. “They love the competitions that we go to, and it has given them the chance to show off what they know.” Hedrick agrees. “Being in SkillsUSA builds up pride and makes you want to show off what you’ve got,” she says.
When it comes to skills, Hedrick’s already got a lot. That’s why she’s been working — along with two of her former classmates — in the Robert Horne Ford repair shop in Apache Junction since the pandemic began. “I started as a ‘quick lane tech,’ but after a month, I was promoted on to a main line team,” Hedrick says with pride. “Now I’m running and learning with the master techs. My title is ‘main line technician.’”
For someone just out of high school, Hedrick is gaining some incredible hands-on experience and skills, a huge advantage over her peers as she plots her career course in the industry. The pandemic has forced her to take some of those skills to even higher levels. “We’ve had to be extra clean with customer vehicles,” she says, “and there are more steps that take us longer. But to keep everyone safe and clean, it’s nothing to complain about at the end of the day.”
Hedrick also deals with another challenge: being a female in a traditionally male-dominated industry. According to Hedrick, however, her team has never made that an issue. “I’m the only female in the shop, and my team pushes me to keep going and become better,” she reveals. As for advice to other women interested in the field? “Either you sit back and watch all the cars pass you or you floor the pedal and take first place,” Hedrick says. “No one’s gonna push you past the finish line unless you do it yourself, ladies!”
Hedrick’s future plans are to take over the shop currently owned by her inspiration: Jerry Hedrick, her dad. “I would be honored to take over and run my father’s shop [Hedrick’s Auto] one day,” she says. “He’s my idol. I want to be just as good as him one day.”
She’s certainly off to a great start. In the meantime, Hedrick continues to navigate her way through the pandemic with a greater understanding of her trade’s importance. “Being called an ‘essential worker’ gives me pride in the job that I do every day,” she says, “because I know people depend on groups of mechanics like us to keep their everyday lifestyle going.”
“I am very proud of my students,” adds Slate. “They are the ones making the difference. The skilled trades have kept this country running during this pandemic. I think it has opened the eyes of ones that never realized other industries’ worth. I hope those eyes don’t close again when this is over.”