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Help Wanted: Auto Body Shop Seeking ‘Advanced Driver-Assist and Safety-Systems Tech’

Does your body shop have the right technicians to diagnose collision damage, research OEM technical information and perform the necessary scans, recalibrations and post-repair quality checks on today’s technology-rich vehicles?

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Josh Cable has 17 years of experience as a writer and editor for newspapers, B2B publications and marketing organizations. His areas of expertise include U.S. manufacturing, lean/Six Sigma and workplace safety and health.

 

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Does your body shop have the right technicians to diagnose collision damage, research OEM technical information and perform the necessary scans, recalibrations and post-repair quality checks on today’s technology-rich vehicles?

That’s a question that the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) Emerging Technologies Committee is posing, as collision repairers grapple with the escalating complexity of vehicles that come through their doors.

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During the April 11 CIC meeting in Westminster, Colo., the committee proposed a definition for a new breed of auto body technician: “advanced driver-assist and safety-systems tech.”

Here’s the committee’s proposed definition: an “automotive technician skilled in computer functions, advanced diagnostic equipment and new vehicle technologies. Knowledgeable in OEM repair procedures, having mechanical aptitude and qualifications, with primary focus on (SRS) supplemental restraint system and (ADAS) advanced driver-assistance systems.”

“When you think about it, how many of us can get in any given vehicle in our shops … and understand how lane observation, blind-spot warning, advanced cruise control and these accident-avoidance systems are supposed to act and behave?” asked Darrell Amberson, president of operations for LaMettry’s Collision, a Minneapolis-St. Paul MSO. “ … That’s why we’re suggesting that all of us, as repairers, are going to need this technician – whether they work for us or they work for some sublet entity, such as a dealership or an independent [repair facility].”

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Amberson shared an example of why the industry needs technicians who specialize in vehicle electronics and advanced diagnostics. It was just one of several examples mentioned during the meeting.

Darrell Amberson, president of operations for LaMettry’s Collision

A hail-damaged Ford F-150 came to a LaMettry’s shop for repair. After the shop R&I’d the headliner, the truck’s electronic power steering wasn’t working. It turned out that the shop inadvertently had disconnected some components, causing “a couple of modules to stop talking to each other,” Amberson explained. The shop was able to “reorient those modules” and correct the problem, but it was supposed to be “a basic hail job,” he lamented.

“This is the whole reason for coming up with this new labor category and focusing on the kind of talent that we need going forward,” Amberson added.

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Kye Yeung, owner of European Motor Car Works in Southern California, asserted that the day is coming – and it’s probably today – that the advanced driver-assist and safety-systems tech “is going to be the most important technician in your shop.”

“There are so many vehicles with this type of technology, it’s our duty to ensure that when we hand the keys back to the customer that it’s repaired to the best of our ability with all the tools that we have and that our employers are trained properly,” Yeung said. “So this [definition] is just spot-on.”

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Where Will the Industry Find These New Techs?

Traditionally, the people who work in body shops have shied away from four-year degrees. The new breed of tech described in the committee’s definition, however, is “someone who has to be an educated person and has to be able to learn,” asserted Sean Guthrie, director of operations for Car Crafters in Albuquerque, N.M.

“As an industry, we’re going to have to figure out where we’re going to find these car people who are very educated and also are very good at learning and adapting,” Guthrie said. “That might be a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer – somebody with more than a bachelor’s degree possibly.”

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The mindset of learning and adapting will be just as important as the college degree, he added.

“ … If they don’t know how to do the research and how to learn and grow with this technology, they’re not going to be able to keep up,” Guthrie said. “So a technician that might fulfill the role today isn’t going to fulfill the role tomorrow.”

Jake Rodenroth, director of client services for asTech, said the role of advanced driver-assist and safety-systems tech might be filled by “a combination of two people.”

“I think it’s a unique opportunity for somebody who comes from a mechanical or collision discipline,” Rodenroth asserted. “ … And I think it’s an opportunity to get a lot of new talent in our business.”

Stacy Bartnik, business development manager for ITW Evercoat

Stacy Bartnik, business development manager for ITW Evercoat and immediate past chair of the Collision Repair Education Foundation, emphasized that the auto body industry needs to educate technical schools on the industry’s changing needs “if we want those employees in our shops in the future.”

“If we have instructors or schools that don’t address any of this in their curriculum, it’s never going to get out there and we’re never going to get the right people,” she added.

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Someone suggested to Amberson that shops should hire people from iPhone stores “and teach them the automotive side.” In light of this new category of collision repair technician, he said that might not be a bad idea.

“When you think about it, what a terrific opportunity for somebody coming into the industry if you’re so inclined to work with electronics, computers and have some mechanical aptitude,” Amberson said. “My gosh, the demand here soon is going to be such that you can write your own ticket. The possibilities are incredible.”

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