Best in Class: Service Technician Lisa Kowite Traded in the Classroom for the Service Bay

It’s great to have a plan. For a teacher, that could be a lesson plan for a class. For an automotive technician, that could be a diagnostic or maintenance plan for cars coming into the service bay.

But sometimes, life doesn’t go according to plan. Just ask NADA’s 2019 #WomeninAutomotive video contest winner, Lisa Kowite.

“When I was teaching, you start off with a plan, [but] you don’t know how it’s going to go, you don’t know what’s going to happen in class,” the former teacher turned Lexus Certified Service Technician said in her award-winning video. “It’s the same working on cars in a sense that you never know what’s going to come into your bay. Even if you think it’s a simple tire rotation, it may turn into something else if our guest doesn’t know they have an issue with something. So it’s exciting in that sense.

An Accidental Career

Kowite said she never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up, but she knew she wanted to be challenged every day. “I went to North Carolina State for my bachelor’s of English. And then started teaching, kind of by accident,” she said.

Kowite went on to get her master’s degree in middle school education and taught English for eight years before she began to look for a new career. “I loved teaching in the sense that I loved educating students,” she said. “But then I thought, ‘If I could just not think about what makes sense financially at all…If I could do anything, what would I do?’”

Kowite soon discovered the answer and enrolled in Durham Tech Automotive Systems Technology program. After graduating in 2015 with an associate’s degree, she found a new home at Johnson Lexus of Durham, North Carolina starting as an express service technician and moving up to a Lexus Certified Service Technician within a year.

The Need for More Techs and Gender Diversity

Despite being the largest demographic group driving cars—women made up 51% of all licensed drivers in the United States in 2017—women service technicians are still a rarity in the service bay. Just over 1 percent of the approximately 317,000 service technicians employed at new-car dealerships are women, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association’s 2019 Dealership Workforce Study.

“There is some hesitation on the part of dealerships to hire females because they feel, rightly so sometimes, that their culture isn’t ready for that yet,” said Jody DeVere, co-founder of the Women in Automotive advocacy group and CEO of AskPatty.com.

Kowite’s experience as a woman in the service bay has been a mixed bag. “I have worked at two dealerships now. Here at Johnson, it is completely different. Being a female in the shop, I think, is a unique experience. Here, I think it’s seen as an asset, which hasn’t been the case in my past,” she said.

But at Johnson Lexus Durham, “equality was built literally into the foundation,” Kowite said. “I know Mr. Johnson planned for female technicians,” she noted. “There’s a full locker room that—for the time being—I get to enjoy all to myself and I love it. The fact that I have the space for me here just says so much.”

‘The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection’

The Lexus slogan is “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” and that is certainly true when it comes to its certification programs. Lexus technicians are factory-trained experts, completing hours of hands-on training and extensive examinations in order to meet Lexus’ rigorous standards.

Technicians must also undergo continuous training to stay current with the latest technology, all of which brings an unparalleled level of expertise to the service bay, Kowite said. “I would recommend that people bring their vehicles to Lexus because I don’t think people can imagine the amount of knowledge that’s in my shop,” Kowite said. “And when you take all that knowledge and you focus it on one specific manufacturer, you have a shop full of experts.”

Speaking of that shop: one of the stereotypes that keeps women from careers as service techs is the expectation that the work is messy and dirty. But the service bay as Johnson Lexus Durham is “like a showroom,” Kowite notes. “I don’t even know how to describe to people how emotionally and psychologically it’s so different in there because it’s clean and bright. The expectation is you clean up after yourself so not only is it a clean shop but that kinda filters into how people behave I think.”

For Kowite, switching to a career as a Lexus technician was the right choice. “It’s been really fulfilling. I hope that I can stay here for the rest of my career. At this point, I don’t see anywhere else being any better in terms of who I work with, who I work for, the work I’m doing. It’s a great place.”