PERRYSBURG, Ohio — More women are starting to take charge in male-dominated industries, and the trend is reflected in Toledo's auto repair industry.
Automotive services organization AAA provides car care and repair to nearly 2.5 million drivers in Ohio, AAA Safety Director Kelli Barnes said.
The chances of that service coming from a woman is pretty high. AAA reported a 20% rise in women in the industry after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, and said that percentage continues to climb.
Barnes goes to work every day because she wants to help others, like those in the often stressful situation of being stranded in a broken-down car in the middle of nowhere.
"It's got its ups and downs," Barnes, who drives a tow truck to assist people who call AAA, said of the auto repair industry.
She said she faces pushback from people who think women can't adequately perform the job, but that doesn't stop her from doing what she loves.
AAA reported a recent 35% increase in the number of women hired for in-fleet operations, including tow truck drivers like Barnes, who started in the role two years ago and has since been promoted in the industry twice.
"I pat myself on the back every day because I do just as good of a job if not better than some of the male drivers that are here," Barnes said.
It's not just adult women breaking the barriers either. High school students are also preparing for a future in the industry.
Lexi Andrews, a Whitmer High School senior, is pursuing a career as a mechanic because it's "a good life skill to have; you can use it your whole life."
She spends most of her free time in the garage and is set to graduate high school early.
"It's not just males, girls are coming up, women are coming up. it's made for everybody," Andrews said.
Bob Anderson, an instructor for Penta Career Center's automotive program, said there are more than 70,000 automotive jobs that need to be filled.
He currently has four female students hoping to join the industry.
"I can leave (Penta) with probably more than 28 industry credentials and that's pretty amazing," student Audrey Gossett said.
The program currently has 22 juniors and 21 seniors enrolled. With early job placement opportunities, nine Penta students are employed in the automotive industry and earning credits while also getting a paycheck.
Barnes said following your dreams is universal. It's not a goal exclusive to men.
"It's 2023. Women can do anything a man can do and I think more women are starting to realize that," Barnes said.