Kyle Watson has been an official mechanic for only nine years, but he’s built up a lifetime of experience across many fields.
Selling fuel. Easy, right? Selling sweets, chips and smokes to people paying for fuel? Even easier, surely? Turns out no. Kyle Watson relocated to the Sunshine Coast after a varied working career across Victoria and NSW, and thought buying a servo with a convenience store would be his ticket to an easier life. “Fuel’s the biggest headache and stress,” the 67-year-old says. “I had no experience whatsoever.”
The saving grace was the service station’s attached workshop. It was only small with two bays and one mechanic, but Kyle found himself gravitating there whenever he could get a spare minute.
“I started to realise his little workshop was earning a greater profit margin than my fuel and convenience store was,” he says.
“I thought ‘why am I doing this?’ and decided to buy my own workshop instead, build it up, and I’ve never looked back.”
In reality, Kyle was far better suited to a life around machinery. He’s been playing with cars, bikes and boats since he was 16; pulling them apart, repairing and rebuilding, often out of necessity. Not only did he find it fascinating, he also showed decent talent from this young age. “I had an old EH wagon and just about everything that could go wrong with it invariably did,” he said. “The 186 motor, a blown diff, blown gearbox. I had a lack of funds, so there was no option but to repair it myself. I was pretty much self-taught.”
After school his preference was electronics engineering, and it’s clear Kyle’s enthusiasm for learning new skills has ensured his life’s been rich with vast and varied roles. He’s done plumbing, gas work, electrical work, panel work, cladding for caravans, chassis work, electric brakes, stereo fits, and full RV, motorhome and caravan fit-outs. The caravan work especially did wonders for developing welding skills and electric 240v understanding – things that would come in very handy when he became a mechanic later in life.
He also spent time working for Repco building clutches. For this he’d be at Holden’s famous Lang Lang test facility in Victoria, testing the cars using new clutch technologies. “We’d have HK, HG and HZ Holdens, and our role was to go out and try to break these clutches,” Kyle says. “If it was breakable, Holden wanted to know when they broke and how to beef them up. Other guys were just sat in the factory, whereas this was fun work with lots of diversity.”
Before relocating, his last job was as a computer engineer in NSW. This was one last string to his bow before taking on his brave new world of workshop owner. Called Liberty Buderim NJT Mechanical, it’s a far larger workshop than the one that inspired him to give this life a crack. There are three bays, four hoists and a talented team around him, including his 19-year-old son as apprentice.
Problem was, Kyle didn’t have his own mechanical ticket, despite his many years of building skills. “I was relying on another guy to do roadworthy tests, who was elderly and often crook,” he says. “I had to wait around so much I thought it was getting ridiculous. So I thought how hard can it be getting a mechanic’s ticket?”
He made an application for a mature age apprenticeship and a trainer came to assess Kyle’s abilities over a four-week period. “He came one day, we started going through the modules, he asked me questions, walked around the workshop and I demonstrated to him anything he asked,” Kyle says. “He asked for photos of work I’d done, and we worked through the first 18 modules in just four hours. He came back in a fortnight, we did the other 18 modules and that was it. What he asked me I didn’t really have to think about too hard, it was just there.”
Clearly his experience had held him in good stead. Even so, it meant the world to Kyle that he was now qualified. “I was chuffed; floating around on Cloud Nine for a little while,” he remembers. “I did another exam to do roadworthy certificates, and used my engineering experience to qualify to issue mod plates.” A key job is fitting child restraint anchor points to old cars, converted vehicles needing to carry a child, or new SUVs that don’t have these anchor points in the rearmost row of seats.
As for the workshop, Kyle’s happy taking on a mainly mentoring role. “Rather than me physically doing the work, I brainstorm with the others and delegate. My son will ask me questions, I’ll get him thinking about different ways to approach things, understand what to do, why do it and how to go about it without hurting himself. When my son leaves, I ask him what he learnt today. It enthuses me when he tells me, as I know he’s keen to learn more tomorrow.”
Despite admitting he’s nearing the end of his career, Kyle says the learning aspect keeps him very much enthused to get up in the morning. “It’s not the best paying career, but it can be very rewarding and interesting, plus you save a lot of money doing work on your own vehicles or for family and friends. It’s funny how many friends you never knew you had when they find out you’re a mechanic!
“I never stop learning. There are tearyour- hair-out days when an issue won’t lie down and die, but I can always call on a colleague to brainstorm it, do some Google research, and hopefully come up with a solution. To be able to produce a 10 out of 10 is the satisfaction aspect I most enjoy.”
Kyle says the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles means what a modern mechanic has to learn is rapidly changing, but there’ll long be call for mechanical work as we currently know it. “Someone with a tactile approach to life will always be rewarded, especially if you can show and explain it to people,” he says. “If you’re a motor mechanic, diesel fitter, air con whizz or auto electrician, if you’ve a couple of those skills you can earn big in the mines too. Whatever you do, it won’t always be breezy, but overall you’ll enjoy yourself.”
Good words of advice from someone who has done practically all of it.