LEESBURG, Va. — The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which has been handling the testing and certification of automotive service technicians for nearly 50 years, has been adjusting its programs, and working on new ones, during the chaos of the pandemic.
In addition to extending deadlines for certification renewal in the wake of pandemic restrictions, the ASE staff, which has been working remotely since last spring, has revamped the ASE website, expanded Spanish-language test offerings and is developing new certification programs.
"We just want to reassure our industry that we are so aware of the issues that COVID and the pandemic have taken on technicians getting their ASE certifications and keeping up with that," Trish Serratore, ASE's senior vice president, communications, told Tire Business.
There are approximately 250,000 ASE-certified professionals working throughout the country.
"The individuals that are certified, they believe in it. It's a sense of pride for them. Businesses recognize it's a marketing advantage, in addition to a professional skills advantage. We have surveys that show that having ASE-certified technicians improves your productivity and your tenure of the technicians who work for you. And so getting that message out is also part of our on-going challenge and goals," she said.
In 2020, all auto service certifications originally set to expire in June were extended to December 2020.
The ASE also encouraged technicians to take advantage of its new ASE renewal app — a subscription-based mobile app that allows users to answer ASE questions for A1-A9 series certifications on a phone, one question per month, over the course of about eight months. When all the questions are answered correctly, the certification is renewed for a year and techs don't have take a test at a physical test center.
The ASE renewal app available only to technicians who already are certified in the automobile series of tests A1-A9.
"It allowed them to keep up their certifications without having to worry about getting to a test center. … It's a new way for us to be able to engage with the technicians," Ms. Serratore said.
The biggest impact of the pandemic for ASE was the closing of its test centers in early spring, she said.
ASE administers its tests at nearly 300 Prometric test centers in the U.S., which have enacted health and safety protocols since reopening last June, she said.
More than 50 ASE certification tests are offered for automotive, collision, medium/heavy duty, school bus, transit bus and truck equipment repair.
ASE also offered testing at several satellite community colleges, but many of those schools were closed to the public early in the pandemic.
ASE stressed that the Prometric test centers around the country are open and technicians can use the association's myASE portal to register for test times.
Other projects ASE has been working on this past year include:
- To address the growing demand for Spanish translations on the tests, ASE, which offered four exams in Spanish last year, has now expanded the offering to A1-A8 auto test series and the G-1 maintenance and light repair test. The light-duty diesel (A9) test will be available with a Spanish translation later in the year.
When taking an exam via computer, technicians can view a split screen showing a question in English and Spanish side by side.
"That was a real request from industry as parts of the country have very strong Spanish-language populations," she said.
ASE can only gauge demographics if technicians self-report on applications, she said, noting that the number of self-reported Hispanic/Mexican certified techs is 9.6% and is the largest self-reported ethnic group after white/Caucasian.
All ASE tests will continue to have the searchable English-to-Spanish glossary of technical terms, which can be helpful to resolve dialectal differences, the ASE said, noting that anyone for whom English is a second language may bring a standard, published English-to-foreign language dictionary to use at a test center.
- ASE has launched a redesigned website with a "myASE" web portal that features a more "intuitive, user-friendly" online experience for service professionals.
The redesigned dashboard on the myASE portal streamlines the registration and certification process and features improved navigation, with test prep and registration information.
The myASE portal also features the ability for technicians and employers to link accounts so an employer can purchase a test for a technician.
The website also has a consumer page, ase.com/drivers, that provides technical information for vehicle owners and explains the importance of ASE certification, Ms. Serratore said.
- As vehicle technology becomes more advanced, ASE is working on creating an Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) certification test. Ms. Serratore said that ASE gathered OEM and aftermarket experts to develop an exam that would test competencies and skills for an ADAS-equipped composite vehicle.
"We did that because the ADAS systems are still proprietary to some companies and some OEs, so there are different ones out there and different terminologies out there. So we wanted to see if we could come up with a generic version that would allow us to write test questions and a task list and help people showcase their competency in this particular area," she said.
ASE will spend this year developing test questions with the goal of launching the test in 2022.
"We're excited about being able to offer a credential in this area, not just because it's needed, but because it also provides some liability security because there is a lot of liability around this whole calibration and ADAS systems. If we can give our folks some additional credibility behind that, it's a real goal for us," she said.
- This year ASE is launching a military-specific test series. The association has been offering general testing on U.S. Army bases around the world, but the military decided it wanted its own specific ASE certification program, she said.
The military certification will have three levels: an entry-level assessment of a person's interest and proclivity to be a mechanic; an intermediate level, similar to the ASE professional level test, but specific to military equipment and vehicles; and an advanced level credential.
"It really helps the service person because if they get certified while still in the Army using these tests, it helps them with points and advancement opportunities. And then the other good news is that when he exits the service, he comes out with a credential that is recognized already by the automotive service and repair industry. It gives him a little heads up coming out of the military into the civilian workforce," she said, noting that the Navy and Marine Corps have also expressed interest in a military certification.