Step inside the Mr Windscreen centre in Waterford city and you’re in for an unusual sight. Or two. Firstly, there’s the impressive array of diagnostic and calibration equipment. Then there’s the person working alongside them – 29-year-old Michelle O’Keefe, possibly the country’s only female ADAS calibration specialist.
A native of Waterford, Michelle joined Mr Windscreen all of 8 years ago, following a 6-month work experience programme from college. She is now considered something of a veteran of the Waterford depot, which houses the first dedicated ADAS.ie centre in Ireland, opened in 2017. Since then Michelle has become quietly expert in ADAS calibration, making sure the correct product is sourced for every job and dealing with customers who are often less than aware of what ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) is all about.
So what led her to a career in a sector that has long been the preserve of men? “I’ve always loved cars and that helps. Without an understanding of cars I think it would be difficult to do this job properly. Of course, it’s something you learn over time,” she says.
Michelle has witnessed first-hand the rapid growth in cars with ADAS technology on board. “Only a few years ago you might have 1 in 20 cars needing calibration. Now it’s 3 or 4 in every 10.”
She is struck by how little motorists know about the technology in their cars. “It’s only when you talk about features like Brake Assist or Park Assist that it clicks with customers that their car has ADAS, but it surprises them when you explain how the windscreen is at the heart of it. Some can actually be a bit put out, as calibration adds to the labour time required, while others are just impressed that their car has this technology they knew nothing about!” As technology becomes more and more advanced, she says that there is definitely a need to educate people more.
So what do her female friends think of the career path she has chosen? “To be honest my friends think I’m mad working with a load of men! What really counts for me, though, is to be working in a good team and we’ve a terrific bunch of people here. It was Stephen who gave me the confidence to go into the ADAS side of things, while Alan was brilliant in bringing me through the training.”
As a 182 Nissan comes into the depot, it’s interview over. Michelle is already back on her feet. She clearly relishes working in a fast-paced environment, as her parting words suggest: “The technology involved in windscreen calibration is changing at a great rate, so you have to keep up to speed with it. We have recently updated our technology as one of the current systems will be redundant from early next year. At ADAS.ie we are proud to say we can calibrate 80% of the cars on the road, but that only comes with constant investment. And that means learning new technology all the time.”