When it comes to recruiting new automotive and collision repair talent and providing training for them there remains a two-fold issue: a growing number of retirees leaving open technician jobs without enough graduates to fill them and a lack of instructors to teach students.
I-CAR Planning & Industry Talent Programming Vice President Dara Goroff told Repairer Driven News that talent recruitment and training “really is the No. 1 challenging issue for the collision repair industry.”
“It isn’t just challenging for us. A lot of MSOs, like Gerber and Caliber, have stood up their own proprietary programs working very closely with I-CAR, actually, but the independents are struggling with the same issue,” she said. “And when we say shops are down two-and-a-half technicians, we mean that across the board. It isn’t just the MSOs. In fact, in a large shop, it’s probably closer to seven technicians that they’re down across all roles. …Even the insurance companies are struggling with it.”
I-CAR’s solution is a new talent programming initiative that teaches students assembly, disassembly, plastic repair, small dent repair prep for refinish as well as support through apprenticeships and mentors plus teaching HR best practices to shops to ensure they’re top-notch employers.
“The true intention of that program is to span the entirety of the collision repair world, first focusing on shops and technical/vocational schools,” Goroff said. “When I say shops and schools, I mean all shops. …We will be creating marketing materials including a talent attraction website that is meant to open a funnel to bring interested parties, or those who didn’t even know that they might be interested, to the industry.”
I-CAR hopes for two outcomes from the program’s “funnel” approach: attract individuals who want to enroll in a tech school and then fast-track their education to being “viable” at a shop, or bring in students that want to build their skills at an MSO or an independent shop.
“The retiring of the older employees in this industry will result in about 100,000 job openings over the next decade,” Goroff said. “And really what I’ve read is that due to retirement, there’s about 9% of the entire industry that are exiting and just not coming back. …Overall, with about 60% of the industry possibly job hopping. You really do run into a situation where you are recruiting and bringing on new talent full-time.”
Next year, Goroff said I-CAR plans to source grants to help fund school and shop programs to relieve the financial burden of talent attraction. “We want to make sure it’s equitable and affordable because the crisis is so big,” she said. “We don’t want cost to be a barrier.”
Contra Costa College in California has had such a huge success with its participation in the Collision Engineering program, powered by the Enterprise Holdings Foundation, that they’re also looking to fill positions to funnel more new talent into the industry. Three part-time positions are currently open but the college is facing a lack of applicants, according to Automotive Department Co-Chair and Collision Repair Technology Professor Laura Lozano.
“We’ve had positions open and posted in the past for both full-time and part-time and we’ve had a hard time even getting applicants to interview,” she said. “That shows that, at least in our area, there aren’t folks that either qualify or know about the open positions. We have increasing enrollment… and the Collision Engineering program also continues to grow but unfortunately, we’re capped at capacity. We can’t take on more apprentices. This is where we’re looking at bringing in more instructors so that we can open up the Collision Engineering program to more students.”
The same issue is happening in Maryland, too. The auto collision repair and refinishing program at the Center of Applied Technology South (CAT South) in Edgewater has a well-equipped shop, enough students to fill its Level 1 and Level 2 classes, and plenty of job opportunities in surrounding communities awaiting its graduates but lacks an instructor.
What makes the job so difficult to fill, the school’s principal, Adam Sheinhorn said, is the disparity between a teacher’s salary and what a collision technician can make in the field. The last instructor “returned to industry because he couldn’t afford to continue on a teacher’s salary,” he said. Depending on experience, that salary is capped at a little over $67,000 a year, he said.
Courses that need instructors at CCC are Introduction to Automotive Collision Repair Technology (lab and lecture), Introduction to Painting and Refinishing Technology (lab and lecture), Introduction to Damage Report Writing, Automotive Steering and Suspension Systems and Headlamp Aiming, Advanced Automotive Collision Repair, Advanced Automotive Painting and Refinishing, Automotive Heating and Air Conditioning.
Instructors must hold I-CAR certifications for the classes they’re going to teach. One or more of the positions may later be changed to full-time, Lozano said. More information about the openings and how to apply is available at www.4cdcareers.net/postings/9259.
Despite the challenges the industry is facing, Goroff sees one positive outcome happening right now.
“I’m seeing the industry start to pull together on this in a way that they have not in the past,” she said. “Competitors are supporting their competition in talking the same talk and walking the same walk trying to attract the seventh and eighth graders and teach them that this is a career that truly has amazing potential and amazing growth opportunities and also comes with a salary that you can really be proud of and support your family.”
Industry perception is part of the puzzle to filling the technician gap, according to a panel that spoke during the SEMA Show last month as part of a Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) OEM Collision Repair Technology Summit session.
The panel — Goroff, TechForce Foundation Executive Director/CEO Jennifer Maher, and Collision Engineering National Program Director John Helterbrand — said OEMs, shops, nonprofits, schools, and insurers need to work together to change the perception of the automotive and collision repair technician roles from grease monkey to high-tech, highly skilled and trained professionals. More on their thoughts, including workplace culture and training, is available here in a previous RDN article.
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