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CREF sees growth in career fair attendance, Tier 1-3 schools

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Associations | Business Practices | Education | Repair Operations
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A presence at a state SkillsUSA and expanding career fairs to other “transportation” trades are among the Collision Repair Education Foundation’s latest efforts to draw a new generation to the field, a representative told the industry last month.

CREF development director Brandon Eckenrode told the Collision Industry Conference on April 11 that CREF’s career fairs have grown from an average of 150-200 students to sometimes more than 600, and students have had their “eyes opened” to other options besides body shops, such as insurance, paint and tool companies.

The demand for skilled employees is so strong that companies had asked CREF to “‘give us a bigger pool to choose from,'” and the trade group obliged by turning the fairs into “transportation” events, inviting students from mechanical repair, auto service, heavy-duty and diesel vo-tech programs to attend, he said.

On the whole, CREF expects to see about 10,000 attendees pass through its fairs this year, according to Eckenrode. He asked the audience of collision repairers, insurers, suppliers and others to spread the word about upcoming events in local markets.

CREF also planned to stage a special career fair in Greensboro, N.C., April 18-19 on the competition floor of the state SkillsUSA competition, Eckenrode said April 11.

Still to come in the spring rotation is a May 16 fair in Nashville, Tenn. Fall fair venues announced to date include Baltimore, Md./the District of Columbia; Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Kansas; New York; and Saint Louis, Mo. Others will be announced this summer.

Shops and others interested in these events should contact Eckenrode at 847-463-5244 or

Eckenrode said shops can support the organization and foster the next generation of techs in other ways besides besides donating to CREF or participating in the fairs. He suggested local businesses meet with vo-tech school leadership, describing the contact as carrying much weight when it comes time for administrators to mull program cuts.

Shops even can help by donating parts for students to practice upon, according to Eckenrode, who called such stock the No. 1 requested item among vo-tech programs. Shops also can donate tools or uniforms or follow Rust-Oleum’s lead and help upgrade what can be seriously deficient facilities, according to Eckenrode.

CREF also recently reported growth in the number of schools in its three tiers of “Collision School Career Readiness Benchmark” since launching the designations in 2016.

The benchmark grades collision repair vo-tech programs applying for Collision Repair Education Makeover grants. CREF bestowed Tier 1 “Advanced” ratings on 17 schools in 2017, up from nine in 2016. Another 111 made Tier 2, “Proficient,” up from just 80 the prior year. “Developing” Tier 3 status spanned 35 schools, up from 31 in 2016.

“Participation in the Makeover grant program provides schools with necessary items to help them advance to higher levels and expand their programs to best serve students and the industry,” CREF wrote in March. “The goal is to help every school acquire the resources to eventually achieve a Tier 1: Advanced school designation.”

Apply for the 2018 makeover grants by June 1 here. 2017 recipients typically won at least $1,000, with many receiving far more money.

CREF rates schools as Tier 1, 2 or 3 based upon their curriculum; instruction hours; and equipment and supplies.

“I want to congratulate all of the schools on their achievements for the Benchmark program,” CREF operations/administration director Melissa Marscin said in a statement. “The number of schools participating in this program continues to rise and the Collision Repair Education Foundation is proud to support those schools in their efforts to achieve the Tier 1 status.”

See a list of all the Tier 1, 2 and 3 schools here.

More information:

Collision Repair Education Foundation presentation to Collision Industry Conference

CIC, April 11, 2018

Collision Repair Education Foundation website

CREF career fairs

CREF Extreme Makeover grant applications

CREF, March 20, 2018


Collision Repair Education Foundation development director Brandon Eckenrode speaks to the Collision Industry Conference on April 11, 2018. (John Huetter/Repairer Driven News)

The Collision Repair Education Foundation suggested ways auto body shops could help vo-tech programs, indirectly helping to fill their tech shortages. (Provided by CREF)

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