Editor’s note: The COVID-19 coronavirus response dramatically cut U.S. traffic, and thus the potential for crashes to arise and fill auto body shops. According to I-CAR, some repairers took advantage of the slowdown to fit in some training. In this guest column, the educational organization discusses what it’s seen on this front and offers tips for repairers who still find themselves with downtime due to the coronavirus. (Or any other slowdown that might arise.)
By Aaron Danielson
As with virtually every sector of the marketplace, the collision repair industry has experienced its share of struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shelter-in-place orders have kept cars off the roads, and therefore, out of the shops. And for those people who may have had plans to visit the shop prior to the pandemic’s onset, well, many of them have chosen to wait the storm out at home and delay their repairs.
Through conversations with industry partners from coast to coast, we know that the vast majority of shops have experienced significant slow downs in their business. But we are also seeing that many technicians are not passing the time by just waiting for the cars to return. Instead they are getting, and taking, opportunities to maintain and expand their skills.
In fact, in the six-month period of October 2019-April 2020, enrollment in I-CAR’s virtual and online training courses nearly doubled, with much of that training getting underway in March and April. Sure, part of the increase was due to the large number of free and discounted courses available through I-CAR’s Industry Relief efforts. And since most of these online and virtual courses are 60 minutes or less in duration, it’s extremely convenient to schedule into a shop’s daily or weekly plans.
But the sheer volume of enrollments during this unprecedented time shows that many shops are truly taking advantage of this pause to invest in their people through I-CAR’s readily accessible online and virtual training.
Take, for instance, Zamora’s Auto Body of Frederick, Md., which had technicians from both of its area locations completing nearly 200 online and virtual courses during March and April, including several from I-CAR’s Vehicle and Technology Specific Training™ portfolio of courses.
Training manager Danielle Zamora said her shop’s ability to quickly pivot technician schedules from repairing vehicles to taking training courses has been a win-win for both employees the business.
“It has been a great way for us to remain engaged with our workforce, and set us up for success beyond the pandemic, with techs even more ready for the complex, advanced repairs of today’s vehicles,” she said. “Investing in these courses during the pandemic also sent a loud and clear message to technicians that we value them for the future. Many of their friends and family members were losing jobs, but we took the approach of securing their future through continuing education.”
Edson Aldunate, a non-steel structural technician at Zamora’s, said he was thrilled to complete more than 25 online and virtual courses during March and April.
“I really love the flexibility to learn from home on my own time,” he said. “I appreciated the shortened classes because it allowed me to focus more and commit more information to memory. The online videos had better information that could be applied to my work and the classes are now a resource for me to look back on whenever I want to refresh my memory on something.”
Training opportunities abound at the shop level during this continued pandemic. Some of the best ideas we’ve heard from shop operators include the following tips:
- “Lunch & Learns”: Consider inviting techs to come in during their lunch to complete a class; designate office computers that are theirs so they can step in to a quiet, effective space during downtime to learn.
- Encourage team members to share information on recently-completed trainings with others in the shop during daily or weekly production meetings. This influences motivation, provides recognition, and promotes a learning culture in the shop!
- Print out a summary for each tech on all training required to complete ProLevel 1 and 2, including all classes they would need to be successful. List and group them so that techs were completing the same courses in the same order to encourage discussion among peers. By also breaking down the list of classes into groups that could be completed each week (2-3 classes/week keeps it manageable.) This not only manages their time efficiently but also motivates them among their peers to stay current and finish their classes faster.
The key message for the industry is that today’s technicians are undeterred in their quest for continuous improvement in their knowledge and skills –pandemic or not! And at the end of the day, any training is a win for a more knowledgeable, repair-ready industry that reinforces I-CAR’s mission: to perform complete, safe and quality repairs for the ultimate benefit of the consumer.
Aaron Danielson is an I-CAR senior manager for product development.