Meet the Auto Body Instructor: Norm Markham

Meet the Auto Body Instructor: Norm Markham

Norm Markham was a student at Dennis Technical Education Center in the early 1980s and is now one of the collision repair and automotive refinishing instructors there.

Norm Markham is one of the collision repair and automotive refinishing instructors at the Dennis Technical Education Center in Boise, Idaho. It turns out Markham is right back where it all started! He was a student in the very same school in the early 1980s and began his teaching career there too, where he has now helped find careers for 700 kids as well. 

One of two instructors, Markham focuses on first-year collision and refinish students. He has three classes each day with 23 students in each class. As the students leave Markham and move into Level 2, they join the Level 2-3 class, which averages 20 students in each of the three classes. 

A Career is Launched

After his time at Dennis Technical, Markham started an internship at a local collision center. He moved on to a dealership-owned collision repair facility and continued his journey for 11 years. His next stop was at a larger dealership-owned collision repair facility, where he served 11 years as a manager. During his time there, one of his employees left to work at Dennis Technical to fill the position that was vacated by Markham’s former teacher. 

Markham volunteered to be the Idaho State I-CAR Committee chairperson and also be part of the local and state SkillsUSA competitions for many years. Soon after, he caught the teaching bug and decided to take the leap of faith from management to educator. It was a tough decision financially, but he followed his heart and has no regrets.  

Norm Markham with some of his students at Dennis Technical Education Center

In 2008, Markham made the jump to what would become a long and rewarding career as an I-CAR instructor. He loves being an instructor and credits many of his industry relationships to that role. Markham is currently a welding, hands-on skills development and virtual instructor for I-CAR. He is also a member of the National Instructor Advisory Committee. He uses the I-CAR PDP-EE curriculum — complete with the end-of-course exam —and is able to graduate students with their I-CAR Platinum Level 1 in Non-Structural and Refinishing. His school prints each certificate that is earned by a student and displays all of them for the incoming students to see. 

Markham loves the collision industry, and talking to him on the phone, I could hear the smile in his voice while he was describing his adventures on that particular day as a teacher. He finished most of his stories with, “… and I get paid for this!” His dedication to the industry is so great that he remembers sacrificing many summers to ply his trade. Given all his experience and talent, Markham is a highly sought-after fill-in for body technicians, automotive refinishers and managers at local shops when they’re on vacation. Last summer, he helped local shops on multiple occasions. This also has helped him build bridges in the community and has also generated valuable local support for the programs at Dennis Technical. 

Challenges and Obstacles

When asked about obstacles he sees facing the school programs and the industry, he echoes what I’ve heard from every instructor I’ve interviewed this year: The industry needs people, and there is no real program in place to successfully transition them from a school to a collision repair facility. He cites low beginning wages compared to other trades in his area and believes that the percentage of students who graduate and go directly to work at a facility is low. He also reiterates that the schools need the shops to be involved. The kids love to hear from people in the industry and see that there are companies out there waiting for them. Markham wishes there was a way to get the word out to students and their parents earlier in the process so that they can see that collision repair is a viable career path. 

Markham expressed a lot of admiration for the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) and the help they have given him. He said the in-kind donations are incredible and a vital part of his program, including large amounts of tape, respirators, safety glasses, sanders, gloves and more — he said it’s like a surprise Christmas many times throughout the year! He encourages every instructor to fill out CREF’s required survey and grant application to get the process started, both of which can be found at collisioneducationfoundation.org.

When not teaching, Markham spends his time on a five-acre slice of heaven he shares with his wife of over 35 years, Laura. They have two grown children who have blessed them with three grandchildren, who he says are his greatest adventure yet. 

Markham is still amazed at how fulfilling his life as an educator is, how thankful he is that he took that leap of faith and how he found a way to get paid to do what he loves. He truly is representative of that teacher we always hear about: the one who made a difference in their students’ lives and inspired them to chase their goals and live out their dreams.

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