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Guest column: CIIA’s progress in enforcing, promoting auto body tech competency

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Editor’s note: Shortages of personnel to fill auto body industry positions and abundances of employees unequipped to repair modern vehicles are issues for the Canadian collision repair industry as well as the American one.

With that in mind, we thought both countries’ repairers and insurers might benefit from hearing how the Canadian auto body skilled trade program has grown participants and cracked down on unqualified employees.

To this end, we’re reprinting with minor edits the text of Collision Industry Information Assistance Executive Director John Norris’ Dec. 6 address to the Ontario College of Trades regulatory board. Special thanks to CIIA, which provided the text and allowed the reprint:


By John Norris

I am John Norris, executive director for the Collision Industry Information Assistance (CIIA) industry trade association for auto body, collision damage repair, automotive painting and automotive glass trades. We have 305 member shops in Ontario, but we look at ourselves as an industry group. In other words, our programs, information, benefits, and training is available to all in the industry, with members receiving lower prices for services.

We started as a small trade association in the Hamilton area and have grown across the province and also as collision chair for the National Automotive Trades Association (NATA) with 1,500 members across the country.

We chair the CASIS agreement, which is the Canadian Automotive Service Information Standard, which obligates through a voluntary agreement, the transfer of all information, service and repair information the car manufacturers currently supply to their dealers to be available to the aftermarket, and independent repair facilities. We also administer the Vehicle Security Professional program for the car companies, that ensures that security information and codes like keys, immobilizers and other vehicle security data can be made available.

Portions of the trade are restricted skill sets like Auto Body, with some 75 technicians registered and the Autobody and Collision Damage Repairer trade, with currently 4,383 technicians registered (up from 4,035 in March of 2014). An increase of almost 350 new registered technicians in the last two-plus years. While many trades have suffered from decreasing enrollment and a need for more skilled trades workers, our industry has continued to increase in numbers and in fact, for the first time ever, this month, we actually have waiting lists for apprentice classes, which is a problem we were always hoping to have. Much of the increase is due to activities that have been co-ordinated with the Ontario College of Trades, the work that Franca Silvaggio as trade co-ordinator has assisted with and the enforcement activity from Bob and his staff, and we wanted to give a quick overview on that activity today.

Our trade is becoming every day more complex and more demanding. Vehicles are becoming far more technologically and electronically active. The number of new features on vehicles today are amazing and updating frequently, and we are fortunate enough to have planned for that.

Our industry repairs vehicles after a collision, usually an insurance company paying for the damages, but with rates being so high in Ontario and a number of folks that do not have insurance coverage, or do not want to file a claim, we find almost 30 percent of the business is being done outside of insurance company processes. However when that car or light truck gets to shop in Ontario, the car still needs advanced repair mechanisms, trade competency and licensed techs to do the proper and safe repair to ensure that vehicle is back on the road in the same fashion that is was originally sold by the manufacturer. This involves additional training, trades certification and equipment needed.

Over the last two years, working with the College of Trades, this industry has been able to introduce new logbooks, new training standards and new curriculum that make the training at the Training Delivery Agents (Colleges) more relevant, more interesting and moving toward technological advances for apprentices rather than just “banging on metal.”

We have been able to offer more apprentice training classes, because more apprentices are registering (A year ago we had 625 apprentices, and now, 688 apprentices are registered.). We still have a major problem in ensuring that apprentices go to the training apprentice classes, however, and we have valuable programs in place with the industry and the Ontario College of Trades to encourage and work towards the goal of
higher attendance. Currently, some 70 percent of apprentices signing RTAs do not go for training, and that is a crisis that we are addressing.

The Ontario College of Trades has been with us on over 20 workshops across Ontario, with Bob originally and others to highlight the advantages of trades qualification value and College membership.

Industry programs like Vehicle Security and Salvage Inspection can only be performed by skills-licensed tradespeople. More OEM programs demand skills trade licensing.

We have scheduled apprentice classes to months where employers can safely release apprentices for school.

More grants, loans and credits to both hire apprentices for employers and provide incentives for apprentices.

Sponsorship of award days for graduating students with plaques and prizes.

We have a new Red Seal exam that is upgraded.

Because new training standards are in place, we can now introduce apprentices to things like Collision Avoidance technologies, Paintless Dent Repair and Basic Collision Damage Estimating training in school.  Not only is this good for the industry, but it also means that apprentices become more valuable to the shop owner, leading to better retention and higher payrolls for apprentices.

First trade ever to have a new logbook to help employers in skills development.

All good news.

Enforcement activity from the College is critical to our trade.

There are still too many workers who are in the trade who are not licensed and competent to do the work. Enforcement activities can and do find them.

For the first time ever, starting in December last year, more challengers than apprentices are writing the trades exam. They are being found by your enforcement activities, and clearly this is working to generate them toward completing the Red Seal exam for the trade. (Editor’s note: “Challengers” are uncredentialed employees of a skilled trade which under Canadian rules must prove their competency to work in that field.)

From August 2015 to August 2016, 65 apprentices passed the exam the first time along with 106 challengers.

Our update programs designed to help those that are not trade-licensed but have the required number of hours to better pass the trades exam are busy. Last year, due to enforcement action, we updated 92 folks to help them pass the exam. The vast majority were eligible for a two-thirds fee rebate from the province.

Our industry package on Technician Equivalency Assessment is our busiest request, usually 1-2 calls a day asking for help, and we mail out some 10 or more TEA package to industry folks each week.

Enforcement allows us to hep workers and techs with experience but no trades license to work with us and the College of Trades to ensure we can ensure the industry has skills competence levels.

Are there things we still need? Yes.

Having insurance companies in Ontario only pay for repairs at shops where trades licensed techs are registered would help everyone, from consumers to the College and to ensure safe proper repairs. Although work is being done on this issue, we are still not there yet.

Data for the College of Trades is the best from any province but it still does not tell us how many new apprentices are signed up rather than past apprentices or those techs that simply renew their MTCU certificate with an OCOT certificate and are not really “new” techs.

From May 1, 2015, to April 30, 2016, we show 243 new apprentices and 412 new trade certificates (journeyperson) being issued. Good number and positive, but unsure how many are MTCU renewals or challengers, for instance.

There are some great opportunities for our industry and the College of Trades in having shop owners become members of the College and having a regular enforcement/compliance inspection on a regular — say, three-month — basis to confirm the shop is meeting standards and then being able to offer this service through only trades licensed techs as an affinity benefit program for College members. That way College members can know they are going to be dealing with a legitimate repair facility with trades-licensed techs.

We continue to be very supportive of the College of Trades and wanted to give you an update today on the positives we see in the enforcement activities to date and into the future.

I would be pleased to answer any questions.

John Norris is the executive director of Collision Industry Information Assistance.


John Norris, executive director of Collision Industry Information Assistance. (Provided by CIIA)

An auto body technician. (kadmy/iStock)

The Toronto, Canada, skyline. (Luke Abrahams/iStock)

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