How to Get Entry-Level Collision Repair Techs Productive Quickly
Written by John Yoswick, Autobody News
Published Dec. 5, 2022
At the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) in Las Vegas in November, Jim Guthrie of the Car Crafters chain of collision shops in New Mexico discussed the success his company was having with quickly getting entry-level apprentices basic skills they put to use working within the shop while their training continues.
“It’s a way they can earn while they learn,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie's company is using the Entry-Level Technician Learning and Development Guide developed by I-CAR. Dara Goroff of I-CAR said the curriculum was created after talking to the industry about what would help someone entering the trade “feel immediately of value in your shop.”
It focuses on five core skills: assembly, disassembly, small dent repair, plastic repair and prep for refinishing.
Goroff said it is the start of a broader I-CAR initiative to provide a solution for those looking to attract, mentor, train and retain technicians, and will include both mentorship and apprenticeship guides that take into account how younger potential technicians want to learn.
“A lot of the folks who thrive in collision repair really are not book learners,” Goroff said during the discussion at CIC. “They’re not video learners. They want to do, as well as either read or watch something, before they’ve learned it.
"The mentorship and apprenticeship guides will truly help somebody learn something and put hands to wrench, put hands to metal, and actually do something," Goroff continued. "Which builds the skill of the learner, builds their confidence in what they’re doing, and makes them feel a sense of pride, which goes directly to a shop’s ability to retain that individual in the career, or a school’s ability to ensure that once a student shows up in a shop, their transition from learning to working is much, much smoother.”
When Guthrie, current chairman of I-CAR’s board of directors, was asked how a shop could get started training entry-level technicians as he’s doing in his business, he suggested calling Goroff.
“Her program is awesome,” Guthrie said. “It will teach you a very simple theoretical skill, and then you can go right into the shop and become productive.”
School Involvement Key for Collision Repair Industry
Another panelist, Brandon Eckenrode of the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), said just as I-CAR’s program to help shops get entry-level employees quickly trained in five skills, the value of that approach needs to reach the high school and college collision repair training programs as well.
CREF can help shops get on the advisory board of a local school, Eckenrode said, to talk to instructors and students so they know “what skillsets they’re looking for as an employer that will make [students] more productive as an entry-level employee, as opposed to the detrain and retrain that we’ve heard many people have to do because of whatever education they might be getting inside their school.”
While schools are often required as part of accreditation to provide students with at least an introduction to a wide variety of skills, they also need to understand “when you come in on day one to work in my company, here are the things that we would love for you to be able to do, as opposed to that mile-wide, inch-deep learning philosophy,” Eckenrode said.
He said CREF is also helping connect schools with shops willing to save their parts so students have current model parts to practice on.
“We also hear time and time again that [shops] need to go talk with the administration, the deans, the principals, so that they know there’s this industry out there that’s waiting for their students [and] there’s great earning potential there,” Eckenrode said.
CREF represented the industry at the American School Counselor Conference this past summer, he said, and counselors told him, “We get it. We need to embrace technical education more.” So CREF is working to create resources those counselors can use “when they’re talking with a student, so they can showcase this as a viable option for them, and what the different opportunities are.”