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New I-CAR President Talks Role-Based Training, Organization’s Future

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Hannah Schiffman joined the BodyShop Business team in June 2008. Previously, she was a reporter at a mid-sized daily newspaper for two years. She graduated from the University of Toledo in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in English with a writing emphasis. She is a member of the Women's Industry Network.

Newly appointed I-CAR President and CEO John Van Alstyne has been on the job for a little over two months, but the way he tells it, he’s barely broken in his desk. Instead, he’s been traveling around the U.S., submersing himself in the collision repair industry to better understand who, exactly, I-CAR is serving.

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Van Alstyne, who has a background in sales in marketing and is a veteran of the OEM world, most recently with electric vehiclemaker Fisher, spoke with members of the trade press this week about what he’s learned about the collision repair industry since he took his post just before Christmas and where he hopes to lead I-CAR in the future.

Thus far, Van Alstyne says what’s struck him the most about the collision repair industry is the dedication and respect repairers have for their work.

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"I would say that passion goes way beyond fixing cars," he said. "It’s really about, ultimately, making safe repairs that ultimately save lives. That really hits home for me, and it’s something that wasn’t quite evident to me at first."

He believes that I-CAR’s role in that equation is to help members of the industry be the best they can be through education. A key part of that, according to Van Alstyne, is I-CAR’s new Professional Development Program, which consists of role-specific training aimed at delivering the necessary knowledge to repairers relevant to their positions. Repairers will now have to progress through ProLevels 1, 2 and 3, as well as take a minimum of six hours of annual, role-relevant training, in order to be recognized as a Platinum Individual.

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Van Alstyne says the new training program was created in direct response to I-CAR customers’ wants.

"The amount of effort and thought that went into the development of the program was completely centered on the voice of the customer. It was feedback from the industry saying, ‘We need a better program out of I-CAR,’" he said. "What the industry was saying is that training for the sake of training is not a great thing, and we want the training to be relevant to the individual taking the training, so we came up with the concept of role-specific training. They wanted training that was focused on performance related to development."

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He added that while I-CAR courses of the past could often cover overlapping material, the organization is now working to eliminate redundancies between courses: "If you’re taking five classes, you don’t need that basic grounding five times. By going to this role-based training, it allowed us to eliminate redundancy, which was a key feedback point from our customers."

Although Van Alstyne is still transitioning into his new role, he’s not going at it alone. Former I-CAR President and CEO John Edelen has stayed on in a consulting role to help ease the transition and introduce Van Alstyne to the industry.

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"I’m not sure he’s ever going to get fully away from us – he’s got a little bit of I-CAR in his blood now," he joked of his predecessor.

But talking to Van Alstyne, it’s clear he doesn’t take his role lightly. Before he even accepted the job, he says he knocked on the doors of  several collision repair shops, seeking to learn what the industry’s about and what he could bring to the table of an organization like I-CAR.

"What I learned from those sessions is that I-CAR is as relevant today as it was when it was founded 30 years ago," he said.

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As far as what he brings to the job, Van Alstyne said he’s been heavily involved in customer service and defining products and services that growth strategies can be built around. One way he sees himself helping I-CAR is by fueling growth for the organization: "I feel like, quite simply, one of the key challenges for I-CAR is to serve an even greater portion of the industry that we’ve been designed to serve. I-CAR’s been around a long time. We’re well-known in the industry, but we’re not reaching everybody in the industry today, so I think that’s something my background will significantly play to."

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Van Alstyne says his interest in the training organization goes far beyond his passion for a challenge in the business world. His new job also plays into his love of volunteering and teaching. Van Alstyne says he’s worked with several organizations over the past 15 years, including the Boy Scouts of America, and he relates to the enthusiasm I-CAR volunteers and instructors have for their work and wants to help the I-CAR team, and the industry as a whole, succeed.

"Really, what Boy Scouts is about is education and training — how to make a boy a responsible young adult," he said. "In a way, education and training organizations have the same duty and responsibility in helping people be the best they can be and giving them the tools, empowerment and confidence to go forth with a fulfilling life, so I found that intriguing as well."

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As Van Alstyne settles into his role, he says his focus will be to continue refining the Professional Development Program, to raise awareness of I-CAR in the industry and to keep his finger on the pulse of industry stakeholders. He’s confident that there will always be a need for I-CAR and that the organization will succeed as long as it continues to respond to industry feedback.

"I found that the industry is truly passionate about I-CAR and what it does. I see this running throughout the industry, whether it’s our volunteers and instructors or the guys who own the shops or the guys who are leading insurance companies," he said. "We’re performing an important duty in the industry, and there’s a  real need for it and an interest in it."

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