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UTI Grad and Shop Owner Shares His Tips for Aspiring Techs

Nov 16, 2020 ·
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From securing a space to purchasing the right equipment, to filling out paperwork, there’s a lot that goes into running a business. But the freedom and fulfillment that comes with creating your own path is what drives many to take the leap into entrepreneurship.

UTI grad Willie Conradt is someone who’s experienced this firsthand. After finishing his training and working as a technician for several years, Willie decided to start a shop of his very own — Hawai’i Fleet Specialists. Today, he’s living his dream and is playing an important role in keeping vehicles on the road in the Aloha State.

So how did Willie go from car enthusiast to Master Technician and shop owner? Keep reading to learn about his story and his tips on what it takes to succeed in this industry.5

Passion Born at a Young Age

For as long as he can remember, Willie has had a love for tinkering with things and working with his hands. “Growing up, I always had a fascination with taking things apart,” he says.

As Willie got older, he developed a passion for cars. In high school, he had a 1989 Toyota pickup that he was always working on, whether painting it or installing a sound system. He also took automotive classes and was a regular in his school’s auto shop.

During his junior year of high school, a recruiter from UTI came to visit Willie’s class. This was the moment that sparked Willie’s interest in pursuing a career in the field.

While Willie’s dad worked in construction and offered to set him up with a job right after he graduated, Willie knew he wanted more. He wanted to pursue his passion for cars full-time, which eventually led to his decision to enroll at UTI.

Making the Move From Hawaii to Arizona

After high school graduation, Willie left his hometown in Hawaii and headed to Avondale, Arizona, for his training. This was a big transition, but luckily he didn’t have to do it alone. Four of Willie’s friends from home also decided to go to UTI, so the group lived together in the same apartment while they were in school.

“Being from Hawaii, you have that sense of family,” Willie shares. He missed home at times, but having the support of his friends and being able to follow his passion is what helped him to stay focused on his goals.

“I knew I wanted to be there,” Willie shares. “Being there and doing what I wanted to do helped me to get through and finish school.”

Willie took the Auto/Diesel program and also balanced working part-time at Gateway Chevrolet. From the instructors to the environment on campus, to the hands-on labs, Willie enjoyed his time at UTI and felt like his education gave him a strong foundation for his career.

“You gain a basic understanding of how things work. That’s really what sets you apart in the field,” Willie says. According to him, being able to learn the ‘why’ behind how things work helps you to repair all kinds of vehicles, which can give you an advantage when applying for jobs.1

Entering the Workforce

After Willie completed his training at UTI, he decided to return home because of the connections he had there. He worked at a variety of small shops as a technician, all while working toward becoming ASE Master Certified.

According to Willie, certifications are key in this industry. It’s one of the main ways shops and dealerships gauge your knowledge and experience. Willie credits his Master Technician status and education from UTI for helping him climb the ladder.

“It was easier for me to find jobs when I told them I have a degree from Universal Technical Institute,” he shares. “Employers look at you as having experience just from going to school, which is what gives you a leg up on someone just coming out of high school.”6

Technician Turned Shop Owner

Willie eventually landed a job as fleet manager for Hawaii Forest & Trail. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company had to undergo some changes. But rather than sitting back as the company went out of business, Willie saw an opportunity to come in and revamp the shop.

In July, Willie decided to start his own shop called Hawai’i Fleet Specialists, which now operates out of the same building Hawaii Forest & Trail did. Today, he’s 50/50 owner with his wife, who helps handle the business and administration side.

The pandemic has brought challenges for many businesses, but the shop has had a consistent flow of work. Willie is grateful he chose a career path that continues to be in demand despite the current challenges facing the world. “We’re an essential business. When vehicles break, they need to be fixed,” he shares.

From diesel engines and brakes to electrical systems and air conditioning, Hawai’i Fleet Specialists does it all. Willie’s schooling and experience working in independent shops has helped him to learn and familiarize himself with all kinds of vehicles.

“I still use a lot of the information I learned in school today,” Willie says. “It helps a lot.”

3 Tips for Aspiring Techs

Willie has had an impressive career, but his success didn’t come overnight. For those who aspire to work in the industry and eventually open a shop of their own, he has three tips:

  1. Use your resources: As a technician, you’re paid for your time, information, and skills. According to Willie, there’s no such thing as knowing everything. There’s always more to learn! If you ever get stuck, Willie advises reading up on the topic and utilizing the resources available to you, whether it’s a manufacturer guide or asking someone who’s knowledgeable about the topic.
  2. Listen to the experts: In Hawaii, the word “kupuna” is used to describe a grandparent or elder. Willie shares that it’s important to listen to your “kupunas,” or those who have gone before you, and apply their advice to your life. “That’s where you gain your knowledge,” Willie shares.
  3. Don’t be afraid to take a risk: This industry often requires you to take chances — whether it’s working on a new piece of equipment or deciding to start something of your own like Willie. While the solution might not always work out perfectly the first time, it’s these experiences that help you to learn and grow. “You can’t be afraid to mess up,” Willie says. “You’ll never know if you don’t take the chance.”

It’s Only the Beginning for Hawai’i Fleet Specialists

Willie has been running his shop for nearly four months now. His schedule is busy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s had a lot of success so far, but like any great business owner, he’s constantly looking ahead and finding ways to improve.

In the future, Willie hopes to see Hawai’i Fleet Specialists become a one-stop-shop for any company with a large fleet. From alignment and tires to paint and transmissions, he wants to be able to offer everything needed to service a vehicle from bumper to bumper. With all that he’s accomplished so far, he’s well on his way.

When he’s not busy working, you can find Willie spending time with his family, whether it’s playing in the yard, riding bikes, or going to the beautiful beaches of Hawaii. Family is an important part of Hawaiian culture, so Willie always makes it a priority to spend time with his wife and four daughters.

Willie’s story is a great example of where hard work, passion and dedication can take you in this industry. The road isn’t always easy — but if this is what you love, the end result can be worth it.

Special thanks (or mahalo!) to Willie for taking the time to share his story with us. To keep up with Willie’s latest adventures, be sure to follow his shop’s Instagram at @hawaiifleetspecialists.

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.

5) UTI programs prepare graduates for careers in industries using the provided training, primarily as automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. Some UTI graduates get jobs within their field of study in positions other than as a technician, such as: parts associate, service writer, fabricator, paint and paint prep, and shop owner/operator. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

6) UTI graduates’ achievements may vary. Individual circumstances and wages depend on personal credentials and economic factors. Work experience, industry certifications, the location of the employer and their compensation programs affect wages. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

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