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When GM awarded the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) a $100,000 grant for 2022, the foundation made good use of the funds to develop its Career Opportunity Awareness Initiative, a project that seeks to increase the number of collision repair students who graduate with marketable technical skills by tackling the challenging dilemma from three specific angles: career awareness, career pathing and career readiness.
“General Motors is proud to support the Collision Repair Education Foundation,” said Terry Rhadigan, vice president of Corporate Giving at GM. “CREF’s work to increase awareness of career opportunities in the collision repair industry will help attract talent and connect the future workforce to the resources and trainings needed to launch a career in this field.”
CREF began by highlighting the collision repair industry as a viable and valuable career to school counselors, educators, parents and other influencers during the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Conference in July 2022, where CREF engaged in “meaningful conversations with counselors from all 50 states,” according to Amber Ritter, director of marketing and project management for CREF. Participating in the event allowed CREF to directly educate over 4,000 school counselors on the multitude of career opportunities available within the collision industry … and also to indirectly promote that message to approximately 100,000 additional students those education professionals will encounter in the 2022-2023 school year alone.
“We also gained valuable insights on the challenges schools face in keeping these programs open, with many citing the largest challenges as finding instructors and paying them well enough to retain them,” said Ritter. “Additionally, we connected with non-profit organizations for other trades, and we plan to assess ways we can further collaborate and best communicate the opportunities that exist within the skilled trades.”
CREF addressed career pathing by utilizing industry and student feedback to design and create Career Awareness banners which were distributed to 125 schools, serving to educate over 5,000 students on the multitude of opportunities that exist within the collision repair industry.
Career readiness and job preparation videos were created to “provide schools with resources to recruit and to provide students with the resources they need to become collision professionals,” Ritter said. Instead of creating five videos as intended, CREF developed a series of seven videos which were shot in an on-site shop studio and in live shop environments, using “former students now working in the industry who were willing to share their real-world experiences and stories in an informative and relatable way.”
All aspects of the Career Opportunity Awareness Initiative were so successful that CREF plans to continue growing them through industry sponsorships, but the foundation is still identifying new ways to connect students with collision careers. CREF was recently approved for a third GM grant which will continue to fund its Support and Connect Project.
“Although there is a large demand for talent in many segments of the collision industry, there are many barriers to entry,” said Ritter. “Two specific barriers are entry-level training and awareness of career opportunities. Programs lack funding to effectively teach their programs and ensure equipment is maintained and updated. They also struggle to increase enrollment to meet the industry’s demands for qualified help. Enrollment in collision programs has decreased by 22% in the past five years, and though collision repair schools across the country are working very hard to alleviate these barriers, they cannot do it alone.”
CREF’s Support and Connect Project hopes to further support collision students and schools by building on its Benchmark Grant program, and it seeks to connect by deepening the foundation’s relationships with school guidance counselors through the creation and dissemination of informational materials to be shared with students and parents.