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While the collision shop of today is repairing existing vehicles, the cars of the future are off the drawing board and plans for production are underway. Increased use of aluminum and plastics, computerized navigational systems, crash-avoidance computers and sophisticated adhesives are all becoming part of our reality.

It’s no surprise, then, that the need in our
industry for trained technicians to repair these cars of the future
has never been greater. But the problem is: Where do you find
technicians – let alone trained ones? And when you do find them,
how can you gauge where their skill levels should be and what
sort of training regimen you should put them on?

To help you develop a training program, let’s
take a look at the state of education in general, the current
collision repair technician situation, what shop owners should
expect from an entry-level employee and what resources are available
to guide a technician on the path to journeyman level.

The Technician Situation

The I-CAR Education Foundation conducted a
survey in 1995 to present a "Snapshot" of the collision
repair business and to quantify the shortfall of job-ready collision
repair technicians. In this survey, I-CAR noted that the field
of collision repair has become increasingly high-tech.

"Quality collision repair requires technicians
to have more technical and academic skills than ever before,"
the survey noted. "This trend is expected to continue and
raises two major concerns about the future of the collision repair
workforce: the need to retain current quality technicians and
attract quality entry-level people to the collision repair trade."

In this Snapshot survey, an entry-level employee
is a person who hasn’t previously earned wages on a full-time
basis in the collision repair industry. Part-time and co-op students
are also classified as entry-level.

The survey goes on to say, "Although
collision repair technicians can earn excellent wages, have job
security and have advancement opportunities, it’s become increasingly
difficult to recruit quality entry-level people."

Why? Because we still have a major image problem.
Fixing cars is dirty. … You don’t need a brain to work on cars.
… Only dummies want to do that. … Go to college and get a
real job. … To encourage careers in collision repair, we need
to take high school students to shops that employ young technicians
who, in many cases, are graduates from the local vo-ed program.
We need to explain the many career opportunities available in
collision repair and support the local instructors in planning
their curriculum, and we need to be present for career days. We
in the industry have to take the message to young people that
ours is a vital industry with above-average opportunities, income,
and potential for growth and personal satisfaction.

What to Expect from Entry-Level Techs

At a recent advisory meeting at a Cleveland
Heights high school, instructor Tom Georgian – himself a former
technician – asked shop owners what they look for in new hires.
Shop owners noted:

  • Honesty;
  • A good attitude;
  • Pride in themselves;
  • Punctuality; and
  • A willingness to take care of shop tools and their work areas.

As far as technical skills, shop owners expect entry-level employees
to be able to perform certain tasks with little or no supervision.

Respondents to the Snapshot survey indicated that it takes approximately
two years for an entry-level technician to become fully productive,
and shop owners generally expected to pay less than half of a
journeyman’s wages to a starting employee.

Additionally, the 1992 I-CAR industry-skills survey (still applicable
according to I-CAR) identified four major job functions and showed
that the industry ranks the need for structural technicians, body
technicians, refinish technicians and collision mechanical technicians
almost equally.

As more shop owners recognize the value of segregating technicians
by specialty, they’ve been better able to recognize the suitability
of a new employee for one of these technical areas. The required
skills for each of these specialties are shown on pages 62 and
63 and create a guideline for you to monitor the progress of your
technicians as they acquire additional skills (to acquire these
skills, be sure to utilize manufacturer training for each specialty).

Also, as young employees become more proficient at basic skills,
additional time with journeymen should be scheduled, and further
involvement with industry-specific training needs to be made available.
I-CAR classes, paint-company training classes, frame-equipment
training and local clinics that address specific repair issues
are all resources to make good entry-level employees well-rounded
members of your team.

To ensure that you keep your techs moving through the ranks, it
may help for you to develop a training timetable for employees
(based on their current skill levels). Also, regular meetings
with employees can help you monitor training needs specific to
your business. For example, if you do work for a new car dealer
without a body shop, it’s likely that the dealer can sponsor your
employees to attend factory training.

The Necessity of Training

Due to continuous changes in technology and a younger, more inexperienced
technician workforce, training has become more of a necessity,
less of an option. But, if you know what skills to expect from
entry-level employees, you can formulate a training schedule to
move them through the ranks to journeymen level – in the process,
increasing their value to you and fostering their loyalty toward

Michael Regan is president of The J.J.R. Company in Cleveland,
Ohio, and a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

Stats on Techs

Statistically, the average national annual income for a collision
repair technician is more than $32,000, and the average age of
a technician in collision repair is 35.5 years. By the age of
40, however, there’s a sharp decrease in the number of technicians.
Although half of the technicians employed have worked in only
one or two collision repair businesses throughout their careers,
most have been with their current employer less than five years.

Also, technicians generally don’t work in collision repair until
retirement age. As they approach age 40, many either leave the
industry or move into nontechnician jobs. Even more alarming,
only 1 percent of technicians stay employed as technicians until
retirement age. Of the estimated 210,000 technicians in the collision
repair workforce in 1994, approximately 20,000 are no longer working
as technicians, and replacements hired from vo-tech schools and
colleges totaled only 5,200 – leaving 14,800 positions to be filled
from other sources.

The Status of Education

In the late 1980s, the U.S. Department of Education published
a report titled "A Nation at Risk." One of their findings
stated that, "The educational foundations of our society
are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that
threatens our very future as a nation and as a people." Particular
concern was expressed about the poor performance in mathematics
and science. The report went so far as to say that, "if a
foreign power had brought our educational system to such a pass,
the action would have been grounds for a declaration of war."

Because the quality of education has a measurable impact on the
United States’ status in the global marketplace, Big Brother spends
a lot of time monitoring American students. Since 1969, a nationwide
test has been given as part of the National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP), a congressionally mandated program. The NAEP
Report Card says this about the results of the national exam in
1990: "All the high school seniors demonstrated success with
third-grade material. However, 91 percent showed mastery of the
fifth-grade course, indicating that not all students are graduating
from high school with a grasp of how to apply the four basic arithmetic
operations to solve simple problems with whole numbers … These
figures show that many students appear to be graduating from high
school with little of the mathematics understanding required by
the fastest growing occupations."

Disturbing information to say the least. Our industry trade magazines
and association meetings are constantly addressing the need (the
crisis) for qualified people to fill vacancies in the collision
repair job market. One might conclude that the current educational
system isn’t successfully teaching the basic skills required.
And sophisticated equipment – no matter how sophisticated – can’t
repair damaged vehicles by itself. Therefore, a trained technician
with competence in reading and, in most cases, mathematics is
needed to make quality judgments throughout the repair process.

Our children need to be supported in their need for quality education,
and our educators need to be held accountable for their role in
the process. Many collision repair industry leaders are actively
involved with the educational system in their hometowns, and they
work with the local teachers and school systems to ensure students
are being challenged to master basic skills and to learn work
habits that will serve them as they advance in their chosen trades.

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