Cars have been around for 130 years, and over that time, many have crashed and needed a doctor – or, an automotive physician. That job falls to those of us working in collision repair.
I’m a senior studying collision repair at Bucks County Technical High School in Pennsylvania. I’ve noticed that many freshmen in my school aren’t interested in studying collision. And this isn’t just the opinion of a few kids – many shop owners and collision industry figures have also noticed a decline in interest.
After talking to some other students my age, I came up with some of my own theories about this phenomenon.
Last decade, the percentage of young people without licenses grew. In other words, less young people than ever are driving cars, let alone owning them. In the past, many kids got their start in collision by doing hobby work on their own cars. Today, cars are too expensive. I look for cars on eBay all the time, and it’s hard to find any for less than $5,000 – unless you want a salvage title! More kids get rides with their parents, and there are more reasons to delay car ownership, such as using Uber or car-sharing services like Zipcar or public transportation.
Many freshmen visit our class throughout the year, and what I hear most is that they “like the shop, but the work seems dirty.” When I asked my teacher about this, he said the industry was “finally emerging from the Dark Ages, when you might imagine seeing a technician smoking a cigarette without protective equipment painting a car with solvent-based paint – if they were in a booth at all. Today, everything is much cleaner.” Advances in refinishes, respirators and paint suits have made shops cleaner places to work.
My generation is very influenced by what they see in the media. Collision is not very prominent on TV compared to other professions. Even though some shows, such as Monster Garage, involve car repair, they present an unrealistically glamorous view of the industry that compares unfavorably to the nitty-gritty reality. People think they can start airbrushing right away, and once they realize they’ll spend most of their time sanding, they walk away.
Young people are increasingly told they must get a four-year college degree. This rejection of manual labor is coupled with constant and overhyped news about job loss in manufacturing and repair, particularly in the auto industry. However, perceptions about the industry aren’t always backed up by reality. According to the Department of Labor, 365,500 new jobs are expected in the next decade in the “Installation, Maintenance and Repair” (which includes collision) category, while only 107,500 are expected in “Art, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media.”
When I look at the local newspaper’s classified section, I see at least three job openings in the collision industry every day. Collision jobs are noticeably unaffected by dips in the economy – after all, people don’t stop getting in accidents! As a lifelong car enthusiast, I plan to go to my local community college after graduating this spring and likely get a job in a body shop while attending classes. Eventually, I hope to write about cars. Let’s hope in the future, young people will still see the benefits of choosing collision repair…and that I’ll have plenty to write about.