A Shot of Enthusiasm - BodyShop Business

A Shot of Enthusiasm

It’s easy to be pessimistic about this industry when you hear first and second generation shop owners tell you that, instead of proudly handing over the business to their kids, they’re going to tell them to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. But I’ve got an easy cure for the doldrums, whether they’ve been brought on by a tough economy, increasing total losses, steering or any of the other myriad reasons why business is exceptionally challenging right now: the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference.

Never heard of it? Shame on you. Only the best and brightest young folks in the country go there to compete in collision repair technology and automotive refinish technology events, among others. Think of it as the Olympics of skilled trades. Including collision and refinish, there are 96 total skilled trades represented, from advertising design to esthetics to major appliance technology.

Talk about a shot of enthusiasm. I visited this year’s event in Kansas City and immediately felt the energy generated by the mass of people out patronizing local restaurants and shops. We’re talking around 15,000 people, including a good number of parents who came along to cheer on their sons and daughters. That was perhaps most encouraging to me, considering that we’re in an industry that supposedly has a labor shortage due in part to parents encouraging their children to work in higher paying and healthier jobs than collision repair can offer.
If these kids indeed were heading into a field where they’ll be “abused and unappreciated,” as some repairers claim, they didn’t act like it. I thought the roof of the arena was going to explode during the opening ceremony, where thousands of students, parents and teachers whirled glow sticks in the air to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

The sponsors and volunteers who contribute products and donate their time to prepare and supervise the collision and refinish tests expressed their frustration to me about how the event is largely unsupported by the majority of the industry and severely neglected by the media. And I couldn’t have agreed more. With unemployment at record highs, accusations that certain jobs in America are not desired by young people, and everybody looking for a pick-me-up amid all the doom and gloom reporting on the economy, the national media should’ve had a field day with this event.

And where were the repairers who gripe that there’s a labor shortage or, if not a labor shortage, a lack of qualified help out there? You know, the same guys who have never served as advisors to their local vo-techs or created apprenticeship programs in their shops because they couldn’t be bothered with greenhorn trainees. Those guys should’ve been there handing out business cards, making offers or at least offering career advice.

It seemed like a no-brainer to sponsor such an event. Talk about building a lifetime of brand loyalty! Think of the feel-good PR a company could generate donating its tools and equipment to an event like SkillsUSA. Yet there were fewer than most would imagine.

It’s high time the rest of the industry puts its full support behind SkillsUSA. Where else could you find a bright, young, enthusiastic and skilled labor pool all in one place for the taking?

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