The job title “Diesel Mechanic Apprenticeship” can mean completely different things in different companies. In some organizations, an apprentice is a true beginner. Over the course of 3-4 years of training, apprentices learn new skills by helping journey-level mechanics. You start off doing simple repairs and helping to move heavy objects, and as your skills progress, you handle more difficult tasks. With a company like Union Pacific, however, an apprentice is an entry-level worker who has completed an associates’ degree in diesel mechanics or has already worked in the field for at least one year. These workers come in on the first day able to handle complicated work.
There are a few ways to find an apprenticeship. You can go through a technical school that offers job placement, or you can keep your eye out for the opportunity to get hired on as a helper in a local shop. These jobs are hard to come by, so it helps to know people in the field who can give you a heads-up when opportunities become available. According to one veteran professional mechanic, manufacturers and dealerships are the most likely places to have apprenticeship programs.
If you plan to help maintain a diesel truck fleet, you will need to get at least a CDL-B, and in some cases a CDL-A in order to test drive the vehicles and move them from point A to B . If you want to work in the railroad industry or in a power plant, the CDL license probably won’t be necessary.
The best thing about an apprenticeship is that you get actual, hands-on experience with the engines while working with a well-trained, journey-level mechanic. It’s an excellent transition from a technical school into the real world. You also get a chance to become familiar with your work environment and see the way people work together.
Large companies like Union Pacific and Schneider offer classroom training to their apprentices in addition to the hands-on aspect. The instructors for these classes may be master mechanics from the company, or from the manufacturer. The information they provide can be extremely useful in refining your maintenance skills.
When deciding whether to start your career as a mechanic’s helper or go through a trade school program, think about the way you learn best. If you enjoy a classroom environment, then a trade school can be a good way to go. On the other hand, if you have a hard time sitting still and you feel like books and lectures go right over your head but what you do with your hands stays with you, then starting off as a helper may be a better option.
In general, diesel mechanics must be at least 18 years of age. Most employers prefer to hire high school graduates. You must be in good physical condition because being able to crawl up onto and under machinery is a job requirement. Many employers require background checks, drug testing and a few references.