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As workforce shortage grows, SEMA presentations offer guidance for collision repair facilities

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Business Practices | Collision Repair
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The U.S. workforce has been thinned out by economic growth and now an additional 3 million employees are needed to keep pace, according to a University of Tennessee economics professor who spoke during the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ Annual EDGE Conference this week.

As reported by DC Velocity, Professor Marianne Wannamaker told attendees that the unemployment rate has reached a 22-year-low.

“And there are more job openings than there are unemployed people, so the idea that we are going to solve our problem by just retraining the unemployed people doesn’t hold water in today’s economy,” Wannamaker said. “That’s not our current situation. Instead, we don’t have enough bodies.”

The ongoing skilled trades shortage contributes to the current unemployment rate and is no surprise for collision repair facilities that are caught in an ongoing struggle to attract and retain technicians. Part of the shortage is caused by vacant positions left by techs that retire.

An upcoming Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) Repairer Driven Education (RDE) presentation during the SEMA Show, “Talent Shortage – Ensuring We Have Collision Technicians in 5 Years,” will address the reported need for 1 million auto, diesel, and collision technicians by next year.

Panelists will discuss how collision repair facilities can attract, develop, and retain talent through business culture, developing career paths, and leveraging available resources.

Brandon Eckenrode, managing director at the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), is among those set to take the stage to discuss solutions to the issue.

“The industry’s talent shortage is something that affects all segments of this industry, either directly or indirectly,” Eckenrode told RDN. “The talent shortage topic is commonly listed as one of the top issues that this industry, like many other technical trades, is facing. This is not something that will be resolved overnight and it will take the industry getting involved and invested into their local technical school programs.”

He said doing so is necessary to ensure students are properly trained, and that local markets will have access to a pipeline of entry-level workers as those students graduate.

“It’s imperative that you are preparing and adapting your business to meet the needs of collision repair technicians to ensure the future of your business,” Eckenrode said. “CREF is looking to connect with those industry members looking to support their local collision school programs.”

He said those who attend the presentation can expect to learn more about CREF’s latest initiatives, as well as what industry members can do to support collision programs, students, and instructors in their local markets.

Other panelists include:

    • Jennifer Maher, executive director at TechForce;
    • Laura Lozano, collision repair technology professor at Contra Costa College; and
    • Donna Wagner, vice president of industry and media relations at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

The session will be moderated by Jeff Wildman with BASF. Ahead of the conference, Wildman told RDN said the session will address one of the industry’s most pressing issues and what can be done to solve it.

“Everybody wants to talk about the talent shortage but nobody knows what to do about it and I think the big thing is none of us can fix it alone,” he said. “We all have to do our part. Each of us needs to do something.”

A separate presentation as part of the RDE IDEAS Collide Showcase at the show, called “Fixing the Faucet: How to Increase the Flow of Technicians into the Industry,” will feature Alex Crays, an auto body instructor at the Career Technical Education Center.

Crays will share his experience as an instructor who is involved in fostering talent among those interested in entering the industry and the strategies he’s learned along the way.

Meanwhile, the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meeting happening Oct. 31 in Las Vegas will also tackle the issue through a panel focused on the talent shortage from a technician’s perspective.

The session will include Aaron Schulenburg, SCRS executive director and Dara Goroff, I-CAR’s vice president of planning and industry talent programming, who will introduce guest presenter Meredith Collins, a Ducker Carlisle director who helped lead the I-CAR and SCRS study.

“This presentation will help better define what actions repairers can take to manage the technician crisis — both how to draw in new technician talent and retain those in collision shops today,” Collins told RDN. “[It] will share key findings from a recent survey of over 800 collision technicians. The audience will walk away with details on how the collision industry stacks up against other automotive verticals as well as recommendations for how the industry can shift attention to solutions that will both draw in and retain talent. We’ll dig into the key drivers of collision technician satisfaction, their career goals and needs, and provide a deeper understanding of what motivates collision technicians today.

“Ducker Carlisle has over 30 years of globally recognized automotive industry syndicated research and benchmarking experience. Within this presentation, we will share our expertise in the technician space, comparing the results from our recent collision technician survey against data from past technician surveys in other automotive sectors.”

Collins is referring to a survey developed by SCRS and I-CAR to better understand what collision repair technicians think about working in the industry; specifically, job satisfaction, earning capacity, and other aspects that either encourage or diminish retention. The survey, which concluded Aug. 30, was facilitated by Ducker Carlisle.

Goroff said the goal of the presentation is to share data that can help the industry elate the perception of collision repair careers.

“Our goal is to share data that can help the industry elevate the perception of a career in collision repair to future talent,” Goroff told RDN. “The presentation will validate some things we already know as an industry while bringing new insights to light,” Goroff told RDN. We’ll identify areas where they are immediate and meaningful rewards for becoming an entry-level technician and areas that, as an industry, we need to do better to attract and retain new talent.”

Those interested in learning more about the show or planning to register can do so online. To learn more about SCRS’ RDE series during the show, click here.

Those planning to attend, or considering attending, can explore the RDE track in greater depth or add sessions to their show planner by visiting SCRS: Repairer Driven Education on the Map Your Show site.


Featured image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock

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