Forging a Trail with Fire

Welder Woman: Forging a Trail with Fire

Jaime Shewbridge is the first woman to have won the 2020 I-CAR Instructor of the Year award and the 2021 Welding Instructor of the Year award — and she’s not done yet.

Spending 30 years in any industry is a major accomplishment. Spending 30 years as a woman in the collision industry is an especially impressive feat, considering how few women were part of the automotive sector as a whole in the early 1990s. Over the last three decades, Jaime Shewbridge has worn a lot of hats. Even today, she is an I-CAR HOSD/welding instructor, Capital Collision Equipment equipment trainer and State Farm P&C claims associate. 

Jaime Shewbridge stands as a prime example that women can make a satisfying career for themselves in the collision repair field and succeed.

For someone with so much obvious passion for the collision repair industry, it might not come as a surprise that she won the 2020 I-CAR Instructor of the Year award and then the 2021 Welding Instructor of the Year award. Shewbridge, however, was shocked both times to receive them. As far as she was concerned, she had done nothing special to earn them. She just listened to her trainers and managers, facilitated events to the best of her ability, and tried to foster an environment where techs would leave the class having learned something and feeling they had used their time wisely.

Her efforts obviously paid off, but as anyone knows, the ones who make something like teaching look easy put in hours upon hours of work behind the scenes. Such is the case for Shewbridge. 

“I spent what probably adds up to thousands of hours learning how to do each task correctly,” she explains, “spending time with different technicians and instructors to learn different ways of presenting information or completing a task, attending training classes on different equipment and doing what I could to come to class prepared and having information to offer that was relevant and helpful.” 

While earning these recognitions was in and of itself fulfilling, what made these achievements even more special for Shewbridge was that she was the first woman to earn both of these awards. She stands as a prime example that women can make a satisfying career for themselves in the collision repair field and succeed — as long as they put the work into it.

“I had the opportunity to meet Johnny Dickerson, the namesake for the welding award, and talk with him on a few occasions, and to know that someone thought I demonstrated the same passion that he did for welding and for our industry is truly the most humbling of it all,” Shewbridge says.

Igniting the Flame

Shewbridge was introduced to the industry at 16, when a local body shop called her high school and asked for a student to do data entry and other computer work. Her computer science teacher recommended her for the position. She ended up staying with the company and over time advanced to customer service representative, estimator, parts specialist, assistant manager, production manager and then manager. At 21, an insurance agency recruited her, so she started a career that took her through the roles of appraiser, inspector, supervisor and team manager. She would eventually return to the collision repair side and then later jump back to insurance, working in the oversight department.

“I was hooked from an early age and have loved this industry from the beginning. It was always challenging, and no two days are ever the same,” Shewbridge notes. 

In 1999, Shewbridge began her parallel journey to becoming an I-CAR instructor. According to her, it seemed like independent shops back then were struggling to get the information they needed to repair vehicles, since repair procedures were not as widely available as they are today. As she traveled around to area shops, she learned about training that was done in a classroom environment: I-CAR classes. She signed up for some and was thrilled with what she learned, yet what shocked her was how long it took to get into a class — and how few people knew about them. So she joined a local committee to help promote the courses.

When she asked why there weren’t more sessions available, she was told it was due to a lack of teachers. Heeding the call, she soon attended an Instructor Qualification Workshop and subsequently caught the teaching bug. Years later, she also started a post-secondary collision industry training program at her local community college, where she still serves as an adjunct faculty instructor. 

But being an instructor isn’t just about teaching in the classroom.

Building the Framework

“Being an I-CAR instructor is more than putting on the blue shirt, showing up, delivering content, assessing or grading performance and leaving,” Shewbridge explains. “There is a lot more that goes into a successful class other than what happens on an actual class day. It starts with receiving an assignment, making contact with the shop, ensuring their equipment meets the criteria for the class by requesting photos and other information, ensuring the students have completed all of the required prerequisites, ordering the materials for the class and preparing everything that is needed ahead of the actual day.”

If that sounds like a lot of work … it is. In fact, much of Shewbridge’s day-to-day tasks as an instructor include:

  • Watching hours of manufacturer videos to learn how each piece of equipment works
  • Reading manuals and calling tech support when something isn’t working
  • Staying longer to talk to helpers who have watched the entire event and wanted to participate and explaining how they can be successful when it’s their turn to take the class
  • Volunteering at the local vocational school to judge competitions, support teachers and explain what I-CAR is
  • Providing comic relief and support when students are struggling with a task and reminding them that they are talented professionals.

“A lot of it is constantly learning ourselves and knowing what cool tools and technologies are out there to assist them in completing the repairs in a safer, efficient and more productive manner in the way that the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] require,” Shewbridge adds.

But the prep work is only the beginning. Once she gets to the actual class, then Shewbridge has to set it up, test/evaluate the equipment, discuss with students how familiar they are with the tools and subject matter of the class, provide information in an engaging and conversational way, evaluate the results from the class and then provide feedback. Even after she packs everything up and heads home, she still has to complete the paperwork and submit it for the students to receive credit. 

Welder Woman

Having been in the industry for over 30 years now, Shewbridge is quite accustomed to the surprise others exhibit when they find out they have a female for an instructor. But she takes it in stride, and many of the memories still make her smile.

“As a live instructor, students would come in and talk to me and not realize that ‘Jaime’ is also a female name, and you could see the surprise on their faces. Making pre-event phone calls to check on equipment will often give way to the question, ‘Will the instructor also be calling to discuss the class?’ Technicians have often ended class by telling me they were skeptical at first and didn’t think they would learn much from a girl, but it was the best class they have had so far,” she recounts.

Once Shewbridge arrives at a welding class, she has to set it up, test/evaluate the equipment, and more.

When Shewbridge started in the industry, there weren’t many women to look up to, but she is proud to see so many now in the automotive field. Pulling from three decades of experience, Shewbridge offers this advice for other women looking to join the collision industry.

“Jump in. Don’t overthink it. This industry has provided for me and allowed me to provide for my family — without exception. Our industry needs people. Learn everything you can, go to every class offered, ask when you aren’t sure, and do your part to return the vehicle back to the owner repaired in accordance with OEM guidelines so that it will handle the potential next impact the same way and keep them safe again.”

Of course, being successful does not mean Shewbridge has plowed along alone over the years. She has had a slew of mentors and friends help her, and even her daughters assist her with class prep and fundraisers. Now, Shewbridge herself stands as an example and mentor to other women in collision. After all, being an award-winning instructor means all the more to her precisely because she is a woman. 

In her words, it means, “To be a mom to all girls and to be able to say, ‘Look — it is hard work and at times may not seem possible, but it is possible to succeed in the career you choose, even if you do not fit the typical expectation for that role.’ I have had people throughout my career keep me forward-facing when I would get discouraged and believe in me even when I didn’t. A supportive family and mentors who have good intentions make all the difference.”

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