Being in a car crash can be one of the more traumatic experiences a person goes through, and a car is one of the larger major investment one makes. Rava recognizes that; she's been in the auto body business for 30 years.
"When the thing is all kinked up, to put it in my hands and fix it up is what appealed to me," she said, about getting into the business.
Rava is a collision refinish technician at Mohawk Collision Center in Glenville. She is one of three people on the paint team — the other two are men — and works closely with her team. They start their shifts at 6 a.m., and plan the night before with the center's production manager to keep them on task. The goal is to get six to eight paint jobs, or "shoots," in a day.
Her "office" is a large white, brightly lit room, large enough to pull most vehicles into. Paint mixing is done by computer, with different colors in paint cans whirring in circles. Rava puts on a gray suit, similar to a beekeeper's outfit, to apply the paint to the vehicles.
That first gig at an auto body shop was part-time, which she took on in addition to going to vocational training in high school. When she graduated at 19, she got a job at a small local dealership. That's when she was able to start training professionally. She took a course focused on General Motors at a training center at Hudson Valley Community College, learning about that brand's vehicles and warranties. She attended a paint manufacturer's training school to learn how to apply the paint.
"That, for me, was an exciting time," she said. "I'm this 19-year-old young person just starting out. I was a sponge for any kind of training I could get. I always kept an open mind and I took in everything I could from other technicians around me and I put my own unique spin on it."
Rava recognized that she was going to be one of the few, and often only, women in the room at auto body shops and dealerships where she worked. Especially when she moved to a different shop somewhere, it was intimidating. But she credits the training she did in her teenage years and the experience she took with her for helping her to make headway in her jobs. She hasn't met any other women in auto painting locally, but she knows they're out there. She's seen websites and associations for women in the industry.
"Honestly, I was always treated with the utmost respect. I knew I had to prove myself, don't get me wrong, the challenge was there. Some of the men walk in and say, 'Yeah, right, like she's going to paint cars?'" she said. "Being on top of your game all the time is key, but it is a challenge." Rava is close with the other painters she works with, taking their lunches together and meeting up when they start their early days.
That drive and competitive spirit exists for Rava outside of the paint room: she's a golfer and a bass angler. Fishing with her family becomes a competition. Who's going to buy dinner that night?
She still feels a spark going to work each day, seeing the cars that are prepped for paint in the morning, and appreciates being part of the Mohawk Collision team for the last two years.
"Even after all this time," Rava said. "Let's get into the cars, make them shiny and get them back to their people."
Women account for 9.7 percent of the 1,342,000 total employees in the auto repair and maintenance industry in the US.
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Sara Tracey is a Times Union features editor, and senior editor for both Women@Work and Upstate magazines. A Saratoga County native and alumna of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, she has worked in reporter and editor roles at newspapers in Utica and Binghamton, and most recently for the Press of Atlantic City in New Jersey. Sara also holds a position on the Society for Features Journalism's board of directors. When she isn't tweeting, she's probably cooking/eating, enjoying time with her boyfriend, family or friends, and sharing photos of her adorable niece.
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