The Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) has launched a two-pronged campaign to attract a new generation of collision repair technicians, with a public-facing national campaign to be funded in part through the rebuild and raffle of a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.
“Who agrees that we, as an industry, need to get out in front of the general public – including parents and school counselors – to educate them about this industry? And who believes we could do a better job of helping students enter the industry?” Brandon Eckenrode, managing director of CREF, said in announcing the launch of the public service campaign, called Operative Talent.
“We continually discuss the need for more technicians, estimators and other industry professionals, but instead of just thinking about it and talking about it, we’re going to put some actions behind it which will involve everybody in this industry,” Eckenrode said.
The public service campaign will showcase the many career paths available in the industry, and shine a positive light on collision repair, he said.
He told Repairer Driven News that the campaign will be professionally developed, and will include advertisements on television, online, and potentially on radio.
Those who are interested in considering a career in collision repair will be directed to a yet-to-be-built website, where they will be able to get more information and find educational opportunities near them.
“We’re in a sort of trade war – we’re competing for students against other technical training programs,” Eckenrode said. “I don’t want to see us lose or get the leftovers. We should be getting the best of the best, and we do that by showcasing what career paths are available to them, by showing them how attractive the opportunities in collision repair can be.”
Before the public service campaign and website can be launched, money must be raised. To that end, KTL Restorations of Danville, Virginia is rebuilding a 1969 Camaro — and this is where collision repairers can step in to help.
Individuals and companies can contribute some of the parts needed to build the car, and can support the effort through donations as corporate sponsors, Eckenrode said. They can also purchase raffle tickets for the car, with the winner to be drawn at the 2023 SEMA Show.
He thanked KTL Restorations and BASF, with support from Hemmings and CarBuff Network, for making the rebuild project possible, and credited Crystal and Kurt Lawrance of KTL for proposing the idea.
Anyone interested in contributing parts should get in touch with KTL by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. There are also opportunities to provide physical help with the project; to learn more, visit ktlrestorations.com and click on the popup window.
“We have children, including a 16-year-old daughter who’s currently studying refinishing, and as parents, we care about their future,” Crystal Lawrance said. “We’re passionate about the next generation, but few show enthusiasm for automotive careers because they know nothing about it. No one is showing them what’s available… Kids are told they must obtain a four-year degree and accrue college debt to be successful, yet there are great opportunities for good-paying jobs in the trade.”
BASF’s Tina Nelles said that while internships, scholarships, and support for schools are widely recognized as crucial for the future of collision repair, “the key piece that’s always neglected is outside perception of our industry.”
“We need people talking about this industry in the right ways,” Nelles said. “By promoting collision repair careers through the website and the PSA campaign, we can ensure that students, as well as their parents, teachers and school counselors, understand the variety of opportunities that exist within this industry.”
Eckenrode added that CREF will be making presentations at the annual gathering of the American School Counselor Association in Austin, Texas on July 9-12, further helping to spread awareness of the industry and what it offers.
He said the foundation is developing materials that counselors can make available to their students, from kindergartners (think coloring books) to high schoolers. The outreach was made possible by a grant from General Motors.
CREF updated this year’s application, breaking it down into five sections: Recruitment, Program Maintenance, Program Additions, Employment and Fueling Innovations, a new category designed to help programs try new and innovative ideas with the possibility of recreating those programs for others across the country.
The update is intended to make the program “more impact-driven, goal-oriented and measurable,” the foundation said.
“Schools and instructors often struggle to maintain their program at its current capability level due to tremendous budgetary pressure, but advancing technology requires constant improvements to the training they provide in order to ensure the industry’s future collision professionals enter the industry with the necessary skills to become effective members of the workforce,” Melissa Marscin, director of operations/administration for CREF, said in a statement.
“Through the industry’s generosity, CREF designed the Benchmark Grant program as a way of helping equip collision educational programs with the materials and support needed to elevate students’ educational experience in accordance with industry standards.”
In 2021, more than 80 schools received a total of $329,000 in Benchmark Grants. Since 2009, CREF has relied on industry donations to provide collision repair educational programs with over $5 million in cash and in-kind donations.
Featured image: Kaiya, age 20; Addie, age 16; and Grayson, age 19 stand with the chassis of the 1969 Camaro project car, named Talent. All three work at KTL Restorations. (Provided by Crystal Lawrance of KTL Restorations)
The chassis of the 1969 Camaro project car on display. (Provided by Crystal Lawrance of KTL Restorations)