The Next Generation: So What the Heck Are They Thinking? - BodyShop Business
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The Next Generation: So What the Heck Are They Thinking?

If you knew what potential technicians were thinking, you could better encourage them into pursuing collision repair as a career.

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In the June issue of BodyShop Business, you read the first half of Henry Netter’s Q&A with body-repair vo-tech students. Netter’s hope? That if we can understand the thoughts, expectations and motivations of future repair techs, maybe we can better attract more of them to the industry. Here, in the second part of this two-part series, the students answer Netter’s remaining seven questions.

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A Re-Cap
The students are enrolled at Pennco Tech in Bristol, Pa., and are Hoang Tran, age 18; Anthony DiNapoli, 20; Stephen Deluca, 22; Lynette Barrett, 27; and Wallace Shuttleworth, 30.

Question No. 8
What do you think about discounting work for insurance companies to get more work for the shop?

— Tran: "I have no problem with it."

— DiNapoli: "I think it’s fair."

— Deluca: "This could be good to an extent, but if you discount your cost too much, it could backfire and the insurance company will not use you for future work."

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— Barrett: "My feelings are to make agreements with the insurance company because it benefits the shop, which benefits the employees."

— Shuttleworth: "I feel it’s fair. The owners assume the most risks. They have to get the work into the shop."

What I think about their answers: Is it just me or has the insurance industry managed to brainwash future repairers as well as many consumers? I guess after paying high insurance premiums on their own vehicles, these students would welcome any perceived relief — and they seem to think they’ll somehow make a few bucks, too. All these students know a full shop is a busy shop and a busy shop means a paycheck, but perhaps a course in diminished value and the importance of following procedures to the letter — along with courses in estimating and liability — would open their eyes to the realities of running a profitable shop. Every student should be taught that a profitable shop is more important to their survival than a busy shop.

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Question No. 9
Have you ever had any experiences with aftermarket (A/M) parts, and what did you think of them?

— Tran: " No."

— DiNapoli: "They suck!"

— Deluca: "Yes. Most of them are pieces of crap because sometimes they don’t fit correctly and don’t always line up."

— Barrett: "The only experience I have is what I’ve heard and seen through the years. A/M parts aren’t something I’d use — too much aggravation and too many problems."

— Shuttleworth: "Very little experience. They’re OK for some jobs, but not as good as factory."

What I think about their answers: Most of these students have had some exposure to A/M parts, and they seem to agree with the rest of the industry. I agree, too, that quality is lacking, but I feel it’s in the students’ best interests that they be exposed to both original and A/M parts and be able to work with both. Technicians today had to learn to "tweak" these parts to fit, and I have a feeling these parts aren’t going away anytime soon.

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Question No. 10
Some shop owners have instituted repair teams to complete repairs faster. Would you prefer to work on a team or to do the jobs yourself?

— Tran: "I prefer working with a team because when you need help, they’re always there, and because if you’re working by yourself, you won’t get the job done A.S.A.P."

— DiNapoli: "By myself. More control."

— Deluca: "On major jobs, I’d like to work on repair teams. On minor jobs, I’d like to work by myself because I can get them done faster."

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— Barrett: "I want the entire job from the time it comes to the shop until it leaves; I work better alone."

— Shuttleworth: "I prefer to do it myself. I think egos will be a problem in some shops."

What I think about their answers: Bodywork is an art and a skill; this is what we teach the newcomer. As a result, it seems these students prefer to go it alone when it comes to repair work. I can understand their desire to do the work from start to finish — many of us in the field today were brought up that way. Shuttleworth even brought up the very real problem of egos. However, I think if a shop has a well-planned team concept in place, along with employees who aren’t threatened by newcomers, then newcomers will find the team experience educational.

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Question No. 11
Do you plan to paint as well as repair? Should a bodyman paint, or should that be left to the paintline?

— Tran: "I plan to do both, but (the paint work) should go to the paintline."

— DiNapoli: "Yes, I think you should paint what you repair."

— Deluca: "I plan to do both if it’s needed of me, [but] it should be left to the paintline."

— Barrett: "I’ll paint my job after my bodywork."

— Shuttleworth: "It should be left to the paintline — the bodyman has enough to do."

What I think about their answers: I can see the desire in the students to learn every aspect of the repair field and that’s great. They should be exposed to it all — that way they can decide where they want to concentrate their skills and talents. It’d be great if shop owners would allow novices to experience each facet of collision repair and then suggest where their talents could be best utilized by the shop. I think shop owners have the ability to spot who has certain talents and abilities; many employers assign certain jobs to technicians they feel can do the job a little better, a little faster or a little more economical — they have an eye for talent, and they can encourage or steer a novice in the right career direction that would benefit both the shop and the student.

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Question No. 12
What’s your favorite and least favorite part of collision repair?

— Tran: "My favorite is painting the car and seeing it when it’s done. My least is the bodywork."

— DiNapoli: "I love all aspects of the work, but the dust is my least favorite."

— Deluca: "My favorite is surface prep because I can get it done fast; mud work is my least favorite because it can be a pain. Also, [I don’t like] frame straightening; that should be left to a trained professional in that field."

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— Barrett: "After the bodywork, painting the car — to be proud of the job I did. I’d be lying if I didn’t say [I’ll enjoy getting] compliments. My least favorite: I won’t enjoy cleaning up after my job, but it’s my responsibility."

— Shuttleworth: "So far, I like everything I’ve done."

What I think about their answers: The students like the easier aspects of the business, and the ones who enjoy painting probably haven’t spent hours trying to match a challenging color. The dirt and cleanup wasn’t high on their lists of enjoyable parts of the job, and I’ll bet many techs today would agree. What’s interesting is Deluca’s comment about frame straightening and leaving it to professionals. He seems to think that, like painters, frame straighteners are separate from bodymen. I can see his point; whenever I look in the classifieds and check out the ads for bodymen, distinct classifications are advertised — assemblers, light bodywork, heavy wreck work. Deluca would be a great candidate for team concepts. In that kind of environment, he could be exposed to frame repair and develop an interest, or he could be quite happy doing other aspects of the repair.

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Question No. 13
I decided to ask them a trick question: Who’s more valuable to a shop: the bodyman or the painter?

— Tran: "The bodyman because if you don’t mud the dents, the paint job won’t look that good."

— DiNapoli: "The painter. It’s the first thing you see."

— Deluca: "Both, because the quality of the bodywork and surface prep depend on the paint job."

— Barrett: "Both, because if you don’t do the bodywork right, you’re not going to get the paint to look right. The important word is quality. Put your all in everything you do."

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— Shuttleworth: "Both. The bodywork has to be good for the paint to look good, and the paint has to look good for the body to look good."

What I think about their answers: Maybe age has something to do with these answers. The two youngest students, Tran (18) and DiNapoli (20) were very specific as to who was more important. Maybe this is an indication as to where they want to apply their skills. I appreciated their honesty to this question. The other three looked at the overall repair and the finished product as a whole. Even though they might not be involved in every aspect of the repair, they understand that each part affects the other. That’s a positive attitude for any employee to have — especially in a business where each department depends on the other for a quality product.

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Question No. 14
The final question is one that shop owners should be interested in and one of the main reasons for this article: Does the bodyman have a stake in the shop’s success, or should he look out for himself first?

— Tran: "I think he should look out for himself because if he takes care of other people first, he won’t do well."

— DiNapoli: "Profit sharing is best."

— Deluca: "He should look out for himself and the shop because both of them can profit from the success they both have."

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— Barrett: "If the shop you work in has no medical, (no) taxes taken out and is run even worse than that, then every man for himself. And, yes, I think the bodyman’s work makes an impression on the shop’s success."

— Shuttleworth: "Yes, a good shop makes money for both. Bad shops have bad reputations and very little work."

What I think about their answers: These answers show a bit of skepticism on the students parts. Only one believed success is based on the shop and the tech working together and profiting from the relationship. The others seem to think that looking out for yourself is the way to survive in this industry. Shop owners might be able to change this way of thinking if they made the industry more attractive so techs wouldn’t have to float from shop to shop to make more money — and if they showed they really care about employees as people, not just as producers. Some shops out there are really good at this. It’s just a shame there aren’t more of them.

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Techs of the Future
The students I spoke with are drawn to the industry not only because they realize they’ll develop lifelong skills, but also because they really want to do this kind of work. So what could change their minds and lessen their commitment to the collision repair industry? The industry itself. A bad experience with a collision repair facility could convince them that it’s not worth the time and investment to stay.

This is why it pays for shop owners to get involved. Those who work with schools not only help the industry by giving students positive experiences, but help themselves because they’ll attract better students to their shops by showing they care.

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My goal for this article? To help shop owners better understand what future technicians are thinking — and what they expect to experience once they enter the real world of collision repair. We may not be able to make all their expectations come true, but I sincerely hope that we, as an industry, don’t shatter their dreams of becoming the best in their field by forcing them to lower their standards for production sake or to appease cost cutters. Although some of the students’ comments may be naive or reflect their inexperience, there’s nothing naive about wanting to be the best you can be. After all, wasn’t that the dream of all of us at one time?

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All these students have high hopes of becoming quality-oriented craftspersons, and I never once got the impression that they’re just looking for a paycheck. What they’re looking for is a career, a trade. Will they choose collision repair as that trade? Maybe. Maybe not. What are you willing to do to convince them?

Writer Henry Netter has worked in the collision repair industry for more than 36 years, is an ASE Master Certified Collision/Refinish Technician and works at Auto Tech Collision in Philadelphia as the senior repair technician.

Special thanks to Eric Jacobs, Pennco Tech’s admissions director, and Mike Cestero, senior education consultant, who helped make this article

possible.

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