Most people assume a man will be working on their car engine or sliding out from under the chassis when thinking of who is doing their automotive repairs. Sisters Naomi and Jaime Hjelm are changing that mindset by proving that women also belong in the male-dominated industry and can be leaders in the field.
The Hjelms own and operate Wicked Wrench Co., of South Elgin. They have been in the private transportation business their entire careers, which started with repairing their own fleets. They believe it’s important for people, women in particular, to understand car problems and repairs, so they began offering free classes on automotive basics to the general public.
Through Wicked Wrench’s classes, ECC’s Future Workforce Leaders Program saw a learning opportunity for students studying automotive technologies. The Hjelm sisters welcomed the ECC group for a repair shop tour to share more about the industry and their business.
ECC’s relationship with Wicked Wrench continues to grow, leading to opportunities for several ECC students, including Nadya Quezada. After job shadowing, she joined the Wicked Wrench team full-time as an automotive technician this past March.
“I’m truly humbled by this opportunity and proud of the work I have put in thus far. The feeling of being acknowledged for your work, not only by your family, but coworkers and bosses, is the best feeling anyone could have at a workplace,” said Quezada.
Second-year automotive technology student Amy Dabe, of Elgin, completed a job shadow at the shop last winter. “The in-person experience allowed me to take my classroom knowledge into the shop,” said Dabe. “I also saw the business side of the shop and learned more about running a successful small business.” Dabe graduated in May 2021 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in automotive service technology and is continuing with business classes at ECC this summer.
As a teenager, Jaime Hjelm honed her auto repair skills through hands-on learning and is passionate about providing the same kind of tangible experiences for others. “I’ve been really impressed with ECC students and their knowledge and understanding of the industry. It’s especially exciting to see more and more women come through the automotive programs. These students are entering the workforce as excellent and enthusiastic technicians,” she said. “It’s a great partnership, and as long as there are students who have the interest to learn, we are here to help.”