Arizona and California Schools Preparing for Collision Repair’s FutureWritten by David M. Brown
Two schools in Arizona and California are prepping the future of the industry.
In Mesa, AZ., the collision repair program at The East Valley Institute of Technology is the state’s only high school-level coursework certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, the independent non-profit based in Leesburg, VA. Since 1983, secondary and post-secondary automotive-training programs in 50 states have been accredited through NATEF standards.
Arizona’s first joint technological education district, EVIT, offers occupation training for high school students at 10 school districts in the expanding Phoenix East Valley. The main 65-acre main EVIT campus is at 1601 W. Main Street, and the extended campus, 6625 S. Power Road.
The school’s areas of certification include non-structural analysis/damage repair and painting and refinishing. Students in the two-year program develop auto body repair and refinishing skills, learning to perform jobs from detailing to assisting with painting in a contemporary paint booth. The main campus facility includes two frame racks, two downdraft bake spray booths and two downdraft prep stations.
The two-year program, with six elective credits toward graduation, teaches students collision and customizing skills, using I-CAR guidelines. The course started in the early 1970s when it was offered at Mesa Vo-Tech, and for more than 20 years EVIT has offered it to aspiring technicians.
“The format of their curriculum is exactly like the curriculum used by I-CAR to certify technicians already in the industry,” says Instructor Neil Carroll, custom paint instructor and an EVIT teacher for 10 years. “Students learn the basics with emphatic hands-on lab practice.” Formed by the collision industry in 1979, the not-for-profit Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair focuses on helping the industry achieve a high level of technical training.
NATEF requires many items, such as a facility and equipment and that teachers must be ASE certified, he says, noting his Master’s Technician certification through Automotive Service Excellence as well as Automotive Youth Education Systems certification (AYES).
For the current school year, Carroll is guiding 71 high school students, divided between morning and afternoon sessions. In addition, an adult collision-repair program in the evenings, through the School of Adult Education, is administered by a different instructor.
In Arizona, students compete in the SkillsUSA competition where EVIT wins the majority of the medals annually, Carroll says. Five EVIT students this year competed against 49 students statewide and won gold, silver, top estimator and other awards. Last year, a female student won bronze—the first female medal winner in state competition—and this year a female student won fourth, missing bronze by only 16 points.
In 1995, a student won silver and, about four years ago, another student took bronze at National SkillsUSA. In addition, last year 11 students participated in internships, and there are currently 12 on internships this year, nearly double the national average, Carroll says.
One of the oldest Ford dealerships in Arizona, Berge Ford in Mesa, employs a number of EVIT students and has been impressed. “They have found a great starting point here,” says Steve Roger, Collision Repair Center manager, who notes the appreciation as well of Ed Baker, the dealership’s service director. “The industry is in great need of qualified entry-level personnel.”
The Sacramento campus of Universal Technical Institute, founded in Phoenix in 1965, offers a Collision Repair & Refinish Technology Program, accredited by NATEF, ACCSC (the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges), the State of California Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education and the U.S. Department of Education. The Houston campus of UTI, which opened in 1983, also offers the program. Nationwide, nine UTI locations provide automotive-education courses, and two motorcycle and/or marine technology.
“Our program is designed to serve industry need,” says Don Black, education director for the Sacramento campus. “We partner with industry and I-CAR regarding our curriculum, facility, education delivery, training aids and lab activities to ensure that we are providing the most relevant technical training that will allow our students the greatest opportunity for success in the collision-repair industry.”
He adds,”It is this focus on industry and partnership with industry that makes Universal Technical Institute the best choice for technical training and how we distinguish ourselves from our competitors.”
Guided by 11 instructors, the 51-week CRRT program guides the students on how to repair and refinish structural and non-structural damage as well as how to prepare cost estimates on all phases of repair and refinishing. Students also learn to repair mechanical and electrical damage. As a result of completing the program, graduates can achieve certifications in DuPont refinishing, 3M plastics repair and Chief Automotive measuring and straightening systems, Black explains.
Based on the industry standard, I-CAR Live, the course includes five modules of collision repair and refinish training: Nonstructural Repair; Structural Repair; Refinishing; Mechanical & Electrical Repair; and Auto Customizing. Graduates will be Platinum I-CAR certified, preparing them for entry-level collision repair or refinish technician for a dealership, an independent body shop or a fleet repair facility.
Success has been continuing since the program started at UTI Sacramento in 2005. One recent example has been with Cooks Collision, a large regional CRRT employer with 20 locations in California. The company had been struggling to find estimators for the last two years, and UTI thought there might be an opportunity to partner with the business, Black says.
“During follow-up meetings with Cooks, UTI learned more about their needs and we were able to connect those needs with the value UTI provided, resulting in a win/win partnership,” he explains. Cooks would create a one-month paid training program on estimating to build on the foundation of the UTI training.
UTI first identified seven candidates. “Our hope was to identify four hires for the program,” Black says, “but after interviewing our seven UTI candidates, they hired six, and all but one of them was able to advance through the training program.”
That group comprises Justin Abner, William Bakke, Colton Dorman, Carlos Solórzano, and Dylan Burtis, who started working with Cooks Collision in February as junior estimators.
They recently returned to UTI to share their experiences and challenge students, telling them to focus on all courses, including estimating, as they didn’t know they would become estimators when starting the UTI program, Black says.
“Our estimating training from UTI was a great foundation to build on during our training with Cooks and we wished we would have focused on it more,’ they said,” he reports, adding that UTI will soon be choosing the next set of UTI graduates to be interviewed for an opportunity with Cooks Collision.
Another recent UTI success is Colton Hart, who graduated from the school in September 2011, accepted a job a month later working with Sunny Stotler in Kalispell, MT., doing custom auto body and refinish repair work.
He started out at $15, received a raise in February and then switched to a flat-rate commission of 40 percent of the total job profit. Quickly, he was promoted to Refinish and Restoration Tech/Airbrush Artist for the two-man shop.
“He now does all the paint and airbrush work and is continually taking on more of refinishing process,” Black reports. “Sunny reports that they have business lined up for the next two years and the community has become a fan of Colton’s airbrush work, with specific requests for his designs and skills.”
Black said, “Colton is doing his dream job and is excited to keep learning and developing under the direction of a veteran in the industry, and UTI is very proud of Colton’s accomplishments and that he is pursuing his dreams.”