students at Northeast Arkansas Career and Tech
(L to R) Austin Bennett, Eli Hickman, students at Northeast Arkansas Career and Technical Center in Jonesboro, AR

Autobody News Invites Your Input

It should come as no surprise to hear that across the country, collision repair shop owners and managers are facing a shared challenge: how and where to find new technicians. 

With baby boomers retiring and vehicle repairs becoming more and more complex, there is a need to address this growing problem now more than ever.

Autobody News is embarking on a new approach to sharing some of the ideas to solve this problem by starting a monthly column dedicated to solving the tech shortage. We invite your input and look forward to hearing about the creative ways your businesses are finding, training and hiring technicians.

Whether it’s through a co-op program, apprenticeship, job-shadowing program, workplace training program, mentorships or other methods, it’s important to share ideas and start the conversation. 

In Jonesboro, AR, Jeff Smith has seen this problem first-hand as a collision repair instructor at the Northeast Arkansas Career and Technical Center. The school serves 13 high schools in the area and has approximately 50--60 students per semester who take part in the collision repair program each year.

Over the course of his career, Smith has attempted to find work for his students at local body shops while they're still in high school so they can gain the experience needed to be paid above minimum wage once they graduate. However, he has found that the body shops don’t have the necessary liability insurance to cover someone under 18. As a result, he said he is losing a lot of passionate auto body students to local factory jobs simply because the wages are higher than what the auto body shops are offering.

With the overwhelming shortage of technicians in the collision repair industry, Smith said something must be done to reverse this trend. If the students had more experience before graduating, he said he is convinced they could earn a more competitive wage at the shops and have the ability to pursue their dreams and positively impact the current technician shortage.

Smith recently reached out to Autobody News to share some of his thoughts about what is currently happening in the industry and his recommendations to solve this dilemma.

Q: After working as a collision repair instructor for the last six years, what have you found?

The students in my class are between the ages of 16--18 and want to work in a body shop while still in high school, but they can’t due to their age. By the time they’re out of school, the body shops are only offering $10 an hour for entry-level jobs, while local factories are offering $13-$18 an hour, so they choose to take those jobs. If they received the experience needed part-time at a body shop while still in high school, I’m sure they could negotiate a higher rate after graduation.

I’m finding that body shops don’t want to risk hiring someone under 18 due to liability issues (if someone were to get hurt), yet they admit they aren’t finding the skilled technicians they need.

I’ve had several students who would have been excellent entry-level collision repair technicians. Instead, our collision centers in town are competing with manufacturing companies because they offer higher wages in the factories nearby. We’re losing the best of the best---the kids who want to work in the collision repair industry.

I have spoken with a handful of shop owners in our town, which has a population of approximately 75,000, and they have all told me that they are in need of new technicians. They have also said they are willing to train someone to do the work that needs to be done.

The problem that I am running into is that no one knows if they are able to cover students under the age of 18 with the insurance currently available.

If we could get these high school students in a shop working part-time, then I believe that we would have a much better chance of retaining our hardworking students in the collision repair industry. Once they reach out to our competition, I believe we will continue to lose a large portion of our future technicians.

Q: What do you think shops can do to help address this problem?

A: To help address this growing issue, I believe we need to begin offering students between 16--18 years old apprenticeships in a certified collision repair program in the shops. 

We also need to find out more about shopkeeper insurance offered to cover workers of a certain age. In my opinion, for those shops looking for technicians, owners may be able to begin taking the vocational tech students who are trained and available and put them to work as apprentices or interns. While these automotive students are still in high school, employers are competing with fast food restaurants, grocery stores and retail stores.

Apprenticeship pay would be much more competitive with this type of employer than it will be once my students graduate and the competition in my area becomes manufacturing positions. It's no wonder we are losing technicians every day.

If we are able to find work for these students who have an interest in the collision repair industry, they are going to gain experience and most likely come to work full-time when they graduate.

I love what I do, and I love to see my students be successful. Unfortunately, until I can get students working, my failures seem to be passed on to my students. I will continue to search for a program where I can put my high school students to work through the summer, after school or through work study.

Autobody News wants to know: Is this happening in your area of the country? Do you know of any shops that can hire students who are under 18 years old, and if yes, is there workplace insurance available in the event of something happening to an underage worker?

Together, we can work to solve this problem with your feedback. Please contact Autobody News columnist Stacey Phillips at

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