Paul Gage isn’t an auto body technician, and he doesn’t own a body shop.
But he loves helping people get jobs in the collision repair industry.
When Gage established the CollisionU program at Fayetteville Technical Community College in Fayetteville, N.C., he found out that he was pretty good at it. During his tenure, the program had a 100-percent job-placement rate, thanks to innovative ideas such as “Draft Days” – a twist on the NFL Combine concept in which the college would invite employers to observe collision repair students ply their trades on the shop floor.
“When you help somebody get a job, you help secure their future life, and you put them in a position where they can buy a nice house and put their kids through college,” Gage tells BodyShop Business. “It’s so much more than, ‘Hey, you got a job.’ And we’re in such a cool place because the people that we train in our industry can find a job in literally any city in any state in the country. There are very few industries that can say that.”
Gage left the community college earlier this year. When ProCare Automotive & Collision approached him about launching two new training centers for the Texas-based MSO, Gage emphasized that he wanted his efforts to benefit the entire collision repair industry – not just one company.
Perhaps to Gage’s surprise, ProCare Collision co-owner Vince Brock told him that’s exactly what the MSO hopes to accomplish with the training centers, which will be open to anyone aspiring to develop their skills in in the auto body field.
As vehicles become progressively more sophisticated, the company recognizes the need for a “better-trained, better-educated technician on the shop floor,” Gage explains – whether the tech works at ProCare Collision or elsewhere.
“Even in training our competitors’ people, there’s a benefit to ProCare, because as you drive up the bar of the quality of technician in our industry, we all get better,” says Gage, who now is the director of training for ProCare Collision. “There’s plenty of work out there for all the shops. Whether people bring their cars to ProCare – which obviously we hope they do – or to one of our competitors, they deserve to be safe on the road, and their families deserve to be safe in those vehicles.”
A Critical Role
In his role at ProCare, Gage will lead ProCollision Training, a newly created entity that will offer classroom instruction at ProCare’s New Braunfels, Texas, corporate office and hands-on training at ProCare’s Live Oak repair center, one of the MSO’s 15 facilities in the San Antonio area.
The New Braunfels classroom is open. At the Live Oak facility – a 25,000-square-foot body shop – ProCare Collision is adding classrooms on the second floor and dedicating several bays to accommodate hands-on technical training. While it will be a few months before the modifications at the Live Oak facility are complete, Gage has the luxury of being able to shuttle students to any of ProCare Collision’s repair centers for hands-on instruction in the meantime.
Gage sees the new training organization filling a critical void in the collision repair industry.
“A body shop is set up to repair cars in a production environment,” he explains. “They’re not set up to teach and train. The skillset and the way that you go about developing people is counterproductive to a production body shop, and the way that you run a production body shop is counterintuitive to what you need to be able to do to train people. When you’re teaching somebody, they have to be able to make mistakes, and they need more time to be able to work on things. Justifiably so, it’s really hard to do that in a production environment. And that was one of the big reasons behind us starting ProCollision Training.”
A Training and Development Path
Among the ways that Gage envisions the new organization serving MSOs and independent body shops, ProCollision Training will be able to assess technicians’ current skills, training needs and career goals and then create development plans to fill the gaps. “And we can do it at a much lesser cost than” it would cost a shop or MSO do those things on their own, he adds.
He also sees ProCollision Training partnering with high schools to bring in students for “bursts of training that get them up to speed on a particular skill.”
“So let’s say you just came out of high school. You could come to us for a period of time – two weeks, four weeks, whatever it is – and we’ll train you to be a teardown-and-rebuild technician. Then you can go into a shop and tear down and rebuild. And after a period of time, you can come back and we’ll train you on how to fix plastic, and you can go back [to a shop] and fix plastic. And then you can come back and learn sheet-metal repair, or aluminum repair.
“It’s all part of a development and training path that will follow you throughout your entire career.”
While Gage says he’s “a firm believer in the I-CAR curriculum,” he asserts that ProCollision Training’s hands-on instruction will be the perfect complement to I-CAR and OEM certifications. “You pair all those together and you have a really solid, well-trained technician who has a training path for their entire career.”
Although the ProCollision Training program is just getting off the ground, Gage can’t help but think about the future possibilities. He admits that even though it’s too early to think about it, he’d love to see the program expand to five or more training centers in various parts of the country, “to make it more cost-effective for business partners across the country.”
Until the collision repair industry addresses the need for training and career development on a nationwide scale, he says, “we’re never going to solve the technician shortage.”
Gage adds: “I really want to help solve that problem.”