In baseball, a farm system is essential in creating a pipeline of successful players for the major leagues. The same goes for the collision repair industry. If we create a strong program to generate interest in our industry among middle-school and high-school students and then mentor them through their education and training, we can ensure a healthy, skilled workforce for the future.
Today, as the co-owner of three collision repair locations in Denver — CARSTAR Ideal Northglenn, CARSTAR Ideal Arvada and CARSTAR Ideal Littleton — I work every day to recruit and retain team members. With our industry suffering from a shortage of collision repair workers, it’s in our best interest to provide a thorough understanding of the industry to students enrolled in collision repair at our local technical schools. In essence, we’re creating a farm system to help create our future employees.
Here are a few of the mentoring programs that we’ve found successful:
- Working with the staff at our local technical schools to provide a formal presentation to all new students regarding the state of the industry. We can introduce them to CARSTAR, showcase our local shops and provide them with real-life answers for an entry-level employee. The discussion also centers around staying in school until they graduate, being in class on time and putting forth their best efforts. A prospective employee who is a graduate of a collision repair program has a much better opportunity of being hired than someone who has no schooling or experience in the industry.
- Participating in all of the job fairs that the schools have each year. It gives us another chance to speak directly to the students, offer them advice and stress the fact that they need to stay in school and graduate. This also allows us to hire students part-time while they’re in school.
- Participating in the program advisory council meetings at our local technical schools. These meetings provide us the opportunity to advise the staff on curriculum needs and discuss hot topics in the industry.
- Student/class visits. We’re slowly starting to resume student/class visits to our collision repair facilities while they’re in school so they can witness the day-to-day operations of a body shop.
- Encouraging students to work part-time at one of our locations while they’re in school so they have a better understanding of how a collision repair business operates. This also gives the student and our owners the chance to see if it is a good fit for both parties. If they show up for work every day on time and put forth the effort, full-time employment is usually waiting for them once they graduate.
I am encouraged to see more young women in these collision repair programs. When I meet a young woman who has the desire to work in the collision repair industry, we mentor and train her the same as a young man — but we’ll also ensure that she works in a good environment and is prepared for this male-dominated industry.
Reaping the Rewards
It’s always rewarding to see our mentoring programs pay off. We currently have several young employees who started at entry-level positions and, through hard work, are now being mentored by some of our lead technicians. However, mentoring young adults does not only lead to technician roles. We have also been very successful in mentoring employees who have started as detailers and transitioned to estimators.
I believe that mentoring starts during the interview process. It’s important to explain the many career paths within your organization so that employees can see themselves working with your company for many years to come.
Starting a Program
To start a mentoring program, I recommend reaching out to your local technical schools via the collision repair program director or the admissions/job placement office. These schools are looking for partners to be involved with their programs, as it helps with their accreditation process and shows the students that their program is valued in the eyes of corporate America. The Collision Repair Education Foundation is also an excellent way to connect with technical schools if needed.
The bottom line is that a mentoring program is good for business. You don’t have to invest a lot of money to create a successful program, but you do have to give your time and share your knowledge and passion for the industry. Just like in baseball, it takes a good coach to identify the players for the farm system, train them and know when they’re ready for the major leagues. Go Rockies!