Once a car owner finds a trustworthy mechanic, there is a good chance that relationship will last longer than the life of the vehicle. Nick McKerrow ’07 knows the industry well and understands that customers are the most important part of his workday. That’s why building and keeping their trust has been a goal since the day the MC grad opened Auto Clinic International in Frederick.
“This really is all about trust. You need to be an informed consumer so you can make the best decision for your car and your wallet,” he says of the repair shop he co-owns with Edgar Opazo, a former employee who is now his business partner. “If we can build that relationship, everybody is going to win. And that’s our ethos.” This year, Mckerrow and Opazo were able to move to a new, bigger location in Frederick.
McKerrow grew up in Gaithersburg and enrolled in Montgomery College right after high school. Unsure about his career path, he started pursuing a general education degree. During his first summer at MC, he took Auto Tech 101, as well as classes in basic household electricity and carpentry. McKerrow enjoyed it so much he enrolled in the College’s Gudelsky Institute and graduated with an Associate of Science in automotive technology two years later.
“I have always been interested in vehicles—trains, planes, and automobiles. I never really considered it as a career. Taking that first class made me reevaluate that,” McKerrow recalled.
[MC] prepared me [to identify] the way the industry is changing. It’s not going to be about mechanical knowledge anymore, it’s going to be about theory of operation and interaction between different substances in a car.
Immediately after graduating MC, he was accepted into the Carmax Technician Apprenticeship Program. It was there that he realized how much theoretical knowledge Montgomery College had provided. He compared his education and expertise to that of peers who attended specialty automotive training colleges and paid out-of-state tuition rates.
“[MC] prepared me [to identify] the way the industry is changing. It’s not going to be about mechanical knowledge anymore, it’s going to be about theory of operation and interaction between different substances in a car,” he said. “We can see the change coming. I spend most of my day, when I am not working in the shop, downloading software from BMW and Mercedes Benz coding [the shop specializes in German cars]. You cannot do this job without those kind of tools and training. And, Montgomery College got me started on the right path.”
McKerrow is now trying to recreate the learning environment he had at MC by collaborating with Frederick County to train high school students interested in the automotive industry.
“We are experiencing a really tough staffing issue in the automotive industry because a lot of mechanics are retiring and not a lot of kids are becoming mechanics,” McKerrow said. One such apprentice already joined their staff, bringing it to seven people working at the shop.
He sees a solid future in the field, especially as high technology is entering the car industry, with hybrid, electric, and driverless vehicles. A technician’s job, he thinks, will be more focused on software updates, adjusting, calibrating, and, as he envisions it, gloved-technicians in lab coats in a spotless shop.
“That’s what we have tried to build out there in the shop.”