If you like working with your hands and with large vehicles, then a career as a Diesel Mechanic may be just the thing for you.
Diesel Mechanics repair and maintain vehicle engines that use diesel; such as buses, large boats, trucks, farming vehicles and even industrial machinery (eg. mining equipment). As a Diesel Mechanic, you should expect a hands-on, get-your-hands-dirty kind of career, constantly interacting with clients and working long hours. This career requires having a good grasp of mechanical systems and a passion for understanding how something works, in order to repair it.
If you would like to pursue a career as a Diesel Mechanic, then you will need the following High School subjects in order to study in a relevant pathway:
- English (Home Language or First Additional Language)
- Pure Mathematics/ Mathematics Literacy
The minimum requirement is finishing Grade 9, but some employers want a higher qualification. Getting a high school diploma (bachelor’s pass) is a great idea.
- Physical Science
- Mechanical Technology
If your high school doesn’t have relevant technical subjects, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn on your own. Many Diesel Mechanics start out working on smaller, simpler engines. Practice working on auto, motorcycle, or small machine engines, such as those in lawn mowers.
For most employers, you will have to gain further higher education in one of the following relevant pathways. There are a number of higher education institutions in South Africa that offer further education in a relevant field of study, but we recommend the following:
- Apprenticeship: BarloWorld Motor Retail Academy Apprenticeship
An apprenticeship is a fixed contract between company and apprentice (roughly for 18 months to 4 years). At the end of the contract, the apprentice usually writes a trade test leading to professional certification.
- Learnership: Sibanye-Stillwater learnership [Diesel Mechanic] (North-West province)
A learnership is a structured learning programme (roughly for a year to 3 years). A learnership comprises theoretical and practical training. Practical training is conducted on site (on the premises of the organisation). This has the advantage that the learner gets experience whilst training.
- EastCape Midlands TVET College- Engineering Programme in Motor and Diesel Mechanics
- NCR TVET college- Automotive N1, N2 or N3 qualification in Motor Trade theory
TVETs offer theoretical training to prospective artisans via the new National Certificate Vocational (NCV). During this 3-year programme (levels 2 to 4), learners complete a school-leaving certificate (NCV) similar to the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) in schools. They are also exposed to a practical workshop component.
One of the previously-stated pathways is required to gain experience in the mechanical field, equipping you with the necessary skills to repair and maintain diesel engines. Any opportunities to gain knowledge about the industry, networking and hands-on experience should be taken to better your chances of being hired (for example, practicing on auto, motorcycle, or small machine engines). All learners are required to complete a practical internship under the supervision of an experienced artisan. Some useful (and often necessary) tips:
- Get a commercial driver’s license (you have to be 18 and be able to pass the test).
- Do Diesel Mechanic courses (see recommended institutions above).
- Decide what you want to specialise in, to have a set career path to follow (eg. farming machinery). Your in-depth knowledge of one type of vehicle will make you sought after by large farming/ mining companies.
- Make sure you are able to pass a drug test! These are common in this industry.
- Job shadow a Diesel Mechanic.
The following skills are needed in order to be a Diesel Mechanic:
- An interest in engines and vehicles
- Able to cope with the physical demands of the job and getting your hands dirty
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Ability to communicate and direct a team, as you will often not be working alone
- Normal colour vision and physically strong / good health
- Ability to perform basic preventive maintenance, as well as troubleshoot and repair all types of diesel engine vehicles
- Able to maintain an inventory of tools and supplies.
- Ability to learn and apply new technology in advanced diagnostics and repairs
- Passion for mechanical and chemical processes and equipment
- Stamina to work irregular hours, when called in by a customer
Diesel Mechanics are needed in many different areas/ types of industries. Diesel Mechanics work on engines on diesel vehicles for large companies (eg. mining or farming equipment), transport companies (eg. logistics trucks/ buses), import/export companies (eg. boats or trucks) or small-scale, repair shops. The working conditions are usually rather unfavourable but finding a job is generally easy to do. Regardless of where you work, dust, oil and grease are definitely part of the job.
Diesel Mechanics sometimes have an irregular schedule, as they are mostly maintaining or fixing engines that don’t breakdown on schedule. You may find yourself working many late nights or crazy hours, as you are called in when an issue arises. If you work in a shop, hours are regular and would be roughly 9-5. Usually working hours are not that long, unless you have an unexpectedly busy job week. Diesel Mechanics must be able to be called when needed, within reason. Working hours are on average 40 hours a week.
Considering you can embark on this career path with only a Grade 9 qualification, the pay is very decent. As a Diesel Mechanic, you can expect to earn anywhere around the average yearly salary of R150 000 – R400 000, with the average at around R210 000 in South Africa. You salary is very dependent on your experience level and how many years you have worked as a Diesel Mechanic. The highest paying jobs are in “heavy equipment repair” while the lower paying jobs are to do with “electronic trouble-shooting.”
When getting started, arrange to chat to a Diesel Mechanic to really get a sense of the job and what to expect. As a Diesel Mechanic you should expect a hands-on, get-your-hands-dirty kind of career, constantly interacting with clients and working long hours. You will like this career if you are physically strong, love hands-on labour and are a perfectionist when it comes to repairing engines and getting the job done well. This may require travel to sites where the machinery is present (if it’s too big to be transported), so enjoying small bursts of travel is a must. If you have a passion for mechanics and problem-solving, and don’t mind getting a little grease on your shirt, this career is a great option for you!