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Tech shortage solutions: CREF partners with ASE on job fairs; ‘Student of the Year’ shares insight

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Associations | Business Practices | Education | Market Trends
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A Collision Repair Education Foundation partnership with ASE to open career fairs to mechanical repair students has paid off for the auto body organization, an executive said.

“It’s in a lot of markets doubling the attendance,” CREF director of development Brandon Eckenrode said April 19 at the Collision Industry Conference.

It makes sense. Both industries are hurting for technicians; there’s plenty of mechanical repair procedures, such as wheel alignment or air conditioning work, that a shop might wish to do in house; and the rise in electronics affected by a collision and subsequent restoration brings the two fields closer together anyway.

Plus, regardless of whether the student is in a mechanical or collision (or refinishing) vo-tech program, an employer in either industry can be sure he or she is interested in working on cars — it’s just a matter of convincing them to switch segments if they’re on the other “side.”

“We are excited to join forces with the Collision Repair Education Foundation in reaching out to automotive repair and collision students to spread the word about all of the great opportunities that are available in this industry,” ASE Senior Vice President Trish Serratore said in a statement April 14.

The partnership with ASE has led the Collision Repair Education Foundation to anticipate between 750 and 1,000 students for its upcoming Chicagoland Cars and Celebrities expo Sept. 15, Eckenrode said. Last year, the career fair drew 400, according to CREF.

The event at the racetrack coincides with multiple pro auto racing events.

“This event serves as a great ‘back to school’ kick-off by connecting students with the industry,” Eckenrode said in a statement April 14. “By collaborating with ASE and inviting both collision and automobile schools, there could be nearly 1,000 students in attendance and this will prove to be a great opportunity for businesses to meet the future professionals of the industry.”

‘Student of the Year’ shares thoughts

Technicians also can be created by encouraging students that it’s OK to have a trade rather than attend a four-year college, one of CREF’s 2016 “Students of the Year” told the CIC audience.

Annie Michalski of Canonsburg, Pa.-based Western Area Career and Technology Center said April 19 that she never thought of going to anywhere but college.

She found out at the last minute of a field trip to tour a trade school and decided to go, thinking that perhaps she’d try a culinary or cosmetology program.

Instead, she said she was drawn to collision repair, in part just to prove naysayers wrong.

“I can do this,” she described her sentiment. “This is awesome.”

But after three years of being told she had made the wrong choice, she became disillusioned, Michalski said.

“I was losing my drive,” she said.

Still, the aspiring painter competed for CREF’s Student of the Year and won. She attended SEMA in Las Vegas and visited with the Women’s Industry Network and Chairwoman Petra Schoeder (formerly Axalta), which renewed her spirit.

“I’m where I’m supposed to be,” she said.

Need an automotive job? Need to hire for an automotive job?
Try the SCRS-Auto Care Association-SEMA job board.

A screenshot from the Society of Collision Repair Specialists Career Center, which is part of a jobs network that includes the Auto Care Association and SEMA. (Screenshot from

While some of what Michalski described was more on the “supply side” — folks outside of the collision industry encouraging youth to go into the field — there are some steps the “demand side” can take as well.

Some still involve targeting these parents, students and counselors. AASP-MN and CREF are attempting this. Others are just a mindset change within the industry. Michalski suggested that jettisoning behavior from a more male-dominated time in automotive could help attract more women to the field.

If you ever see a woman next to a car, she’s wearing “one square foot of clothing,” Michalski said.

“It’s demeaning,” she said, and it sends the message that “you don’t belong here.”

More information:


CREF, April 14, 2017

Upcoming CREF career fairs


Students participate in a Collision Repair Education Foundation job fair in Pittsburgh on April 19, 2017. (John Huetter/Repairer Driven News)

CREF director of development Brandon Eckenrode speaks April 19 to the Collision Industry Conference. (John Huetter/Repairer Driven News)

2016 CREF “Student of the Year” Annie Michalski speaks April 19 to the Collision Industry Conference. (John Huetter/Repairer Driven News)

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