They came, they took, they conquered. They sneered at my hard-won skills, took away my individuality and are replacing my surroundings with drab collective armies of smiling Mao men who are receptive to being told what to think, say and do." — a long-time bodyman on the invasion of his body shop "jungle" by business missionaries armed with MBAs.
I’m used to hearing from shop owners about how hard it is to find and keep good techs. But lately, I’ve been hearing a lot from veteran techs about how hard it is to work in this industry. An industry they once loved.
They say they feel they’ve been demoted to the role of helpless onlooker — witnessing an industry that once valued craftsmanship and quality putting its quest for the dollar above all else.
They say they’re told to produce more and faster — and not to ask questions. They say the quality product they produce is no longer valued. And neither are they, for that matter. Once called artisans, they’re now called slow.
They’re disillusioned. And not just because their paychecks are shrinking. They’re disillusioned because they don’t feel welcome in the one industry that once welcomed them with open arms.
It’s ironic. In an industry that’s concerned about where its next new hire is coming from, many of its current techs say they’re being made to feel unwelcome.
And these are the people you’d want to train your new hires. These are the people who’d make good mentors for a new generation of collision repairers.
The problem here isn’t so much about change. These techs understand that, as a shop owner, you have to make money. They also understand that the world is changing and that the industry has to change with it. What they don’t understand is why this change seems to sanction a compromise of ethics and standards.
Says a friend who’s a post-repair inspector: "The realities of business pushed craftsmanship to the wayside. This is no longer the case in manufacturing because U.S. companies realized that sh – – won’t sell anymore — but only after they had their asses handed to them. Collision repair customers, unfortunately, are easier to fool, which is why this kind of crap proliferates — and I have customers."
It’s this lowering of repair standards — along with the shift to a "faster and cheaper" manufacturing mentality — that’s causing some veteran techs serious misgivings about the future of the industry — and their place in it.
And rightly so. After all, who needs skilled craftsmen when, to quote my friend, "you’ve got six Koreans who can make fenders from stolen dinnerware"?
"The ’70s, ’80s and ’90s body shop scene was the Last Frontier for the unruly," says the tech quoted earlier. "I could be an individual, and it was a jungle I embraced and thrived in. I was Tarzan with a body hammer.
"Today, that environment has all but vanished. Business missionaries armed with MBAs marched into our jungle, leveled the tangled growth and gave us polished floors, political correctness, tightly regimented work schedules and employee behavior manuals. They spoke in a lingo we wild craftsman heathens couldn’t understand about ‘shifting paradigms,’ ‘vertical and horizontal growth,’ ‘team conceptual economies,’ and ‘reducing cycle times.’ Now it’s a fast-food mentality, vapid of colorful individuals.
"I also see the farce of it all. Those smooth-talking MBAs made promises of quality repairs, pointing to the large, modern glass-and-steel bondo factory behind them to back up their selling point to easily impressed customers — when, in fact, those factories turn out substandard crap. But it’s substandard crap done FAST.
"We untamed old schoolers were rugged individualists, but when it came to doing a job and doing it correctly, quality wasn’t a marketing buzzword. We actually did what we preached."
Georgina K. Carson