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Creative Recruitment

Your right arm. How important is it to you? An independent body shop owner recently said he would give his to find one good technician. If people are willing to give up body parts, you know things are bad!

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According to industry statistics, there's a shortage of about 20,000 body technicians. Since this shortfall is annual, 200,000 jobs could be available in the next decade. While many techs don't stay in the position long (they may become managers or shop owners), others are leaving the industry for one reason or another, and new people aren't entering shops to replace those lost techs. And not only is there a need to get more people in the industry, but there's a need for more people with the increased skills and knowledge needed to repair today's cars.
To reach this end, the means have been to change the mentality concerning the industry to attract more people - in many cases, females. And the means, in some cases, have gotten pretty creative.
One such means took place at Green River Community College in Auburn, Wash., where a day-long session introduced 104 10th-grade girls to nontraditional trades - such as autobody. Girls from about 25 high schools were invited to Try a Trade/Technology, and out of the seven trade choices, autobody was one of the two most popular.
Grasping the Concept
This was the first time the college held the Try-a-Trade program, and those involved agreed to do it yearly. Mark Millbauer - autobody instructor at the college - and Chris Stone-Ewing - coordinator for the area's Tech Prep program, a national school-to-work movement that grooms students for trades and technical fields - conceived the idea. Stone-Ewing obtained a grant to help make the program possible. 
Each trade at Green River Community College had three sessions, lasting about an hour and 45 minutes each. In autobody, the students listened to a motivational speech; watched the I-CAR Education Foundation's video, "Smart Jobs/Smart People"; listened to Millbauer talk about how the autobody trade is becoming more technical, how it's growing, its income opportunities and safety; and then they got their hands dirty.
The girls dared to be different by rotating stations, where they put a car up on a hoist; put a hooked-up, wrecked unibody car up on a frame machine and did some pulling; used a stud gun on a dented fender; mixed paint on a computerized system; and mixed some autobody filler. "They had the most fun doing that," says Millbauer about the "bonding" experience.
A paint booth also was available for some hands-on experience, but since only four girls at a time and only one group per session were allowed in the booth, the girls picked colored poker chips from a bag to determine their fate. Each different color represented a different station. The group that went into the booth didn't get to try all the other neat stuff - but, they did paint a car! The lucky owner? The college's trades helper, whose car needed a paint job. Millbauer had most of the car prepped beforehand, and then he spoke to the girls about safety and what was going to happen in the booth. After they suited up and put on respirators, these 10th-graders turned painters went to town. 
The girls first sprayed a test panel. The first session then put on the sealer, and the second and third sessions put on the actual paint. Each girl sprayed a quarter of the car. "It's beautiful," Millbauer says. "The lady who owns the car just loves it." 
Although not a perfect first job - Millbauer had to do some sanding and applied more paint to correct runs, etc. - the girls did a good job. "They loved it," he says. "They got to keep the paint suits, and at the lunch break, I heard girls saying, 'Oh, you've got to go over and take autobody because they give you this really cool paint suit.' They were just so excited because it was all hands on. They really got a kick out of knowing the car they were painting was for a real customer and not just a vehicle rolled in from the salvage yard."
A State of Mind
Millbauer says 10th-grade girls were chosen for the program because they still have two years of high school left to prepare themselves for a trade - if they so desire. And it's programs like this, he says, that can change the my-kids-need-to-go-to-college mentality of parents. "[College] doesn't always work," Millbauer says, explaining that he knows young people with degrees working as waiters and waitresses. " ... yet some painters and bodymen right here in Auburn are making $70,000 a year." 
In addition to good pay, trade-school graduates can explore many employment avenues, such as managing a paint store. "There's a need for young people in these trades," Millbauer says. "We're not getting the new people in, and the older people are retiring or resisting change."
The mentality of high schools also needs changed, according to Millbauer, who was disappointed with the schools lack of advertising for the program. Millbauer believes, however, that the girls who participated will pass around the good word, especially since the kick-off event was well-received. 
The college's goal? "If three years from now, when those girls have graduated, we notice even one extra female per program here," says Millbauer, "we know that it was a success."
Beam Them Up, Scotty
Another attempt to reach new recruits stretched across the country during a live, interactive satellite seminar that promoted careers in automotive service and repair. It was developed by the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (CCAR). Geared toward both underhood and autobody careers, it was broadcast by the National TeleLearning Network to more than 300 middle, high and vocational schools, which made up an audience of about 30,000 students, teachers, counselors and parents.
The hour-and-a-half-long show consisted of two live panel discussions and videotaped interviews with automotive students, teachers, shop techs and shop owners about the skills needed in today's high-tech industry. The first panel featured students in automotive programs at area community colleges talking about the programs, their viability, why they chose the programs, what kind of futures they were anticipating and what their income expectations were.
The second was a panel of industry and education experts who took phone and fax questions from the national audience. The industry panel included representatives from ASE, North American College Automotive Teachers Association (NACAT) and more. They re-emphasized that because of the increasingly complex technology being used in cars, the level of knowledge a repair technician needs today is measurably higher than what it was in the past. These days, techs need skills in applied math, chemistry, physics and computer skills, and they also need to be able to diagnose repair problems - which didn't always used to be the case.
Getting an Education
Sherman Titens, president of CCAR, says the industry needs those who would make it in college. The problems with getting them, he says, is that school counselors don't know about the change in the industry, so they're not advising students to go into the field. And parents don't understand the new dimensions or income possibilities, which can be between $75,000 to $150,000 a year for a highly-trained diagnostic technician.
"One purpose of the program was to try to communicate to students and counselors the fact that new technology in cars is mandating a new kind of technician," Titens says. "We need to get young people to begin to think about the opportunities in automotive technology and to get them to understand that it's not the greasy-fingernail crowd."
Another issue at hand is the need to appeal to women. According to Titens, 1 to 1.5 percent of those in the industry are women. "And we can use a whole lot more," he says, "because at the same time, there are other fields that are going to be competing for the same technical skills. As cars become more complex and tougher to repair, you need to go out and get better trained, more knowledgeable individuals. And, there's fewer and fewer of those because other industries are competing for the same labor pool. In order to get that many qualified people, you absolutely have to go beyond the male segment."
Titens describes the industry's tech shortage as "huge," and in addition to training newcomers, he points out the ancillary need to train current techs to heighten their skills.
A Satellite Success
During the satellite seminar, pamphlets and other information were offered to students if they called an 800 number, which, Titens was told, "rang for the next three to four days without stopping." Titens says "tons" of questions also came in to the panel. "We couldn't begin to answer them all," he says. 
There were about 60 post-show calls, teachers wanting information and a number of schools offering to pay for pamphlets, which Titens says is unusual.
The plan is to repeat the program. How often it's repeated will depend on sponsors, but the basic format will probably stay the same - students talking to students, industry panel members discussing the high-tech nature into which the business has grown, interviews with people who've become successful in the industry, tours of modern auto labs and classrooms, and visits to auto-repair shops - both independent and dealership - to see work environments.
Doing Your Part
Think you don't have the time or the resources to help cure your industry's shortage? Maybe after learning about what others have been doing in their corners, you, too, could come up with a creative remedy. No matter how small your contribution, remember, it will make a difference. 
Coalition Collision Apprenticeships
If you want something done right - or, at all - do it yourself: This may well have been what 12 independent body shop owners in Maryland were thinking when they put their heads together to try to alleviate their technician-shortage woes.
These shop owners, who had been meeting to discuss various industry issues, made it a top priority to develop and implement an apprentice program, the Collision Technician Apprenticeship Program (CTAP), that will train newcomers to the industry, as well as offer a bridge of training for students coming from vocational/technical environments who may require additional skills in order to work independently in a shop.
Throughout the three-year, full-time work/part-time school program, the apprentice must complete very specific skill levels while utilizing I-CAR's AdvanceTech curriculum. Maryland is the first state to approve the program, which will eventually become national. (Maryland is one of 26 states that has local apprenticeship standards, so it was necessary for CTAP to register with and be approved by the Maryland Council.)
The program, which was on track as of press time, had an aggressive goal to place a minimum of 20 apprentices in preapproved collision-repair facilities by August 1. During a presentation made at the Collision Industry Conference in May, CTAP was able to convey its plans to industry participants. 
This endeavor allows progressive collision-repair facilities and key industry players to collaborate around a single goal, which will ultimately benefit the entire collision-repair community.
Getting Out The Big Guns
With the war for more technicians raging on, some of the industry's organizations decided to bring out the big guns by banding together the troops to form the Think Tank.
ASA/ASAMI, ASE/NATEF, I-CAR/I-CAR Education Foundation and SCRS make up the group, which intends to establish ongoing relationships, plan projects and keep up with what each organization is doing to better the situation. Improving the industry's image will be focused on, but it's not front and center at this point.
The group is working on a project to send representatives to three states (Missouri is the first) to meet with education, government and industry leaders to tell them about the human-resource shortage and to put together programs to make sure vocational-technical programs are in place and of high quality. The group will work with leaders to set up a student-recruiting model and is also monitoring two-year associate's-degree programs, like the one being set up at Cypress College in the Los Angeles area, as well as apprenticeship programs.
The Think Tank has met five times since April '95, and future meetings will be twice a year. Future goals include continuing to build strong relationships between the organizations and to identify other projects that are best worked on collectively.
Information for this box was furnished by I-CAR.
More Coming Together
The lack of qualified people in the automotive field has spurred a number of collaborative creations to prepare high-school students for careers in the industry and to give automotive students hands-on 
experience.
One such program, the Automotive Technical Training Program, was developed to reach these ends, plus provide dealers with quality employees. Beginning this fall, the program will provide money for scholarships and equipment, as well as hire a full-time teacher (who will have worked in a dealership for one month) at the high school the instruction is to take place.
Students start in the six-year program when they're high-school freshmen and finish as community-college graduates. They will shadow a technician for the first two years and then learn hands-on skills when they participate in paid and unpaid internships at local dealerships, where they could begin working after graduating.
The program, designed by the Metro Portland (Ore.) Auto Dealers Association (MPADA) and supported by 83 Portland dealers, also allows students to earn up to 30 credits for Portland community colleges.
Competitions, Scholarships and Coupes
Because there's also a labor shortage on the dealership side of things, the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association (GNYADA) began a competition in which student auto techs from across the country compete for top honors - and a Mitsubishi Mirage Coupe. Now that's motivation!
In April, 23 two-person teams attempted to be the first to fix an altered auto. State associations persuaded dealers to offer cars and facilities for training purposes, and automakers sponsored teams during regional and national competitions. Members of the winning team received a full scholarship to an accredited auto-technology college - and the coupe - after college graduation. All participants received a tool set and toolbox from Sears.
The competitions began in 1990, and 24 dealer associations now participate.
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