The New Generation of Professionals

May 10, 2023
How an independent shop inspired Nathaniel Dillard to become the youngest ASE certified technician.

At 23-years-old, Nathaniel Dillard is a Worldclass certified technician with years of industry experience already under his belt. Though many were pushing Dillard toward going to college out of high school, one local shop owner he worked for saw potential in him.

NOLN spoke with Dillard about his journey in becoming the youngest Worldclass certified technician and the support he received to get there.

Dillard grew up in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and now works as a research and development contractor at the North American division of Akka Technologies, a European company that offers engineering consulting for the automotive industry.

Develop the Skills

Dillard’s first experience with automotive repair was around 9 or 10 years old, when his father enlisted his help with repairing a fuel pump on his vehicle. He said his father needed “tinier hands than his,” Dillard remembers.

His interest in working with cars only grew as he matured, and after leaving high school, he immediately pursued the automotive field.

He started as a lube technician at a dealership after finding a job posting, and then went to work at an independent shop. It was there that he met Wallace Parrish: his mentor and owner of ZZ Auto Service Center.

“I impressed him, because I was working in the field I was at 18,” Dillard says.

When he began working for Parrish, Dillard was still unsure how committed he was to further pursuing his career as a technician, with many around him pushing him toward going to college.

It was Parrish that encouraged Dillard to work toward obtaining the ASE certifications that helped get him the job he has now, even going so far as to help fund the test fees.

“He’d seen the potential in me, and told me to keep pushing for greatness,” Dillard recounts.

When he made the decision to pursue Worldclass certification, much of it was material he’d already worked with in real life, but much also required studying and preparation. He says that he introduced himself “slowly into those subjects” by “studying up and researching.”

“A lot of is hands-on knowledge that you would acquire, but a lot of it is also just understanding the concepts and applying them,” he says.

His advice for others that are pursuing ASE certifications is to seek resources online, especially official ASE practice tests. If someone fails a test, he advises to study more and try again. Dillard says he failed some tests up to four times before passing.

Dillard cites his time at the shop as the most impactful time of his career. Parrish offered him support and confidence, and in spite of all the doubters, Dillard saw a path to carve for himself toward what he always wanted to do.

Just a few months ago, he stumbled upon a paper from a mock career presentation that he performed at 15.

“I remember one of the questions it asked was, ‘What would you like to do after graduating high school?’ I said that I wanted to be an R and D electrical contractor. … I did end up getting that job, and I think that’s really cool,” he says.

Understand the Opportunity

As a research and development contractor, Dillard now encounters many college students interested in the industry through a tech student program at Akka Technologies, and often ends up becoming a mentor for many of them.

The most important piece of career advice he has received, and that he gives to any technician entering the field, is to keep up with emerging technologies. He remembers how his background in working on computers with his father gave him an advantage when he first started as a lube technician.

“I was able to apply that (background in computers), being the new guy in the shop (and) already having an understanding of electrical systems in cars that are already becoming more and more electrical, versus mechanical,” he says. “And that has allowed me to keep ahead in my field.”

For Dillard, that’s always what his driving motivation to work in the automotive field has been: the opportunity to work with emerging technologies and being on the cutting edge of new products.

“I really enjoy getting to see the product before the rest of the world sees the product,” he says. “I really enjoy problem solving situations that I know for a fact have never occurred in the world before.”

Though Dillard enjoys a fulfilling career today, he confesses that the doubt he faced was one of the hardest parts of getting there, with many around him pushing him to go to college and pursue other paths.

“There’s a lot of negative connotations, even today, when it comes to a skilled labor position,” he says. “We’re starting to understand that not everyone needs to go to college, but there’s still some sort of a negative light shined on you if you haven’t. I think that’s not necessary.”

He’s more than satisfied in the position he holds now, being able to provide for himself while doing what he loves. He says he hopes to continue work in the research and development field for the foreseeable future.

“I think you can have a really good career and a really good life outside of work in this field,” Dillard says.