From compensation and benefits to training and recruitment, Autobody News has everything you need to know about beginning a career in collision repair.
Most in the collision repair industry would agree that the demand for qualified and motivated auto body technicians is extremely high. A recent report prepared by the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) and co-sponsored by the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR ) provided a snapshot of collision repair business environments and the body technicians working in them. Some of the issues addressed include compensation, benefits, training, recruitment and turnover.
“Previous surveys, conducted every three years, confirmed the need for a continual supply of qualified entry-level body technicians, while also showing changes concerning business operations and the collision repair technician workforce,” the executive summary stated. More than 630 businesses responded to the online survey, which was conducted in 2016 and represented over 4,500 body technicians.
“The auto body industry is facing the same ‘skills gap’ that skilled trades are experiencing across the United States,” said George Minehart, the senior manager of human resources for Gerber Collision & Glass. “We all have an aging workforce without enough people with the required skills entering the labor market.”
“I believe technicians in today’s collision repair industry have the greatest opportunities of all times,” said Elisabeth Sobczak, performance training coordinator for I-CAR. “There is an enormous need in the industry for highly-skilled and trained body technicians who, if they choose, can become leaders and experts as a result.”
The following is a summary of the information from the report:
Current Body Technicians
Overall, it was found that while the total number of collision repair businesses has increased slightly, the number of reapir technicians has increased significantly. “The percentage of small shops (with annual sales under $300,000) has declined significantly since 1995, while the share of large shops (over $1 million) continues to increase,” according to the report.
The largest source of hiring body technicians (49 percent) came from another body shop. The analysis of the industry showed that “just over 25 percent were hired from the non-automotive industry or as their first job, which was higher than in 2013 (20 percent)” when the survey was last conducted. More than 11 percent came from the automotive industry.
The report also showed that the average technician age has increased to almost 41 years old, rising about 13 percent since 1995. “A particular concern for this industry is the growth in the percentage of technicians over 50 years old,” according to the executive summary.
Many shops across the country are providing technicians with an attractive earning potential. After an analysis of the industry, it was found that the average income for a technician has increased and is still higher than most comparable trades. Just under half (48 percent) is based on flat rate (commission) plans. Survey respondents reported that nearly one in four technicians receive a yearly salary of $70,000 or more each year. Minehart said body techs at Gerber Collision & Glass can earn up to six figures plus annually while doing what they are passionate about.
2016 National Annual Income Averages (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics):
Collision Repair Technician $53,857
Electronics Technician $53,270
Machinery Mechanic $51,470
Tool & Die Maker $51,130
Chemical Technician $47,890
Carpenter (Gen/Maint) $46,870
Heavy Truck Driver $42,500
Medical Lab Technician $39,635
"Three out of five shops surveyed said they hired at least one entry-level technician in the past year."
Minehart said body techs can expect steadier work than other careers due to the demand across the country. Armando Soto, associate vice president for talent acquisition at Service King Collision Repair Centers, agreed.
“A repair technician is certainly a desirable career path for anyone looking for a rewarding, in-demand and lucrative profession,” said Soto. Like other forward-thinking companies, he said Service King offers a litany of benefits to technicians. “Because of our growth and national support team, we are able to provide our family of technicians with competitive pay and benefits and a myriad of growth opportunities.” The company also offers repair technicians a 401(k) with employer matching.
The survey found that most shops across the country now offer paid vacations to employees. More than half provide health insurance and retirement benefits, although there was a significant decrease in health care coverage in 2016. Nearly half of shops currently offer life insurance and a growing number also provide disability and paid tuition.
Tasks Techs Can Expect
Those who responded to the 2016 survey were asked about the specific tasks they would expect a graduate of a technical school program to be able to perform with little supervision. The top four tasks included prep for paint, R&R bolted parts, repair steel metal dents and final detailing. The least expected skill was repair electrical systems. Some of the new tasks mentioned were: perform diagnostic scan, repair aluminum dents and aluminum welding.
“As vehicles become more technologically advanced, the training and experience required to work on them will only exacerbate the existing skills gap,” said Minehart. “Well-trained body techs will benefit from this situation in terms of both earning potential and job security.”
Minehart said entry-level body techs at Gerber focus on becoming proficient by working on smaller jobs like bumper repairs. They eventually build skills to perform plastic repair (both two-art and plastic welding), assist with tear downs and R&I and small filler work.
“At Gerber, we are very focused on hiring entry-level body techs with the ‘soft skills’ required to be successful,” he said. Ideally, he said entry-level techs will be able to meet I-CAR’s Pro Level One requirements when they start their careers.
“Having the right attitude and mindset is so important to use that we require all our apprentice candidates to go through a 30-day working interview at one of our locations so we can ensure they have the ability to follow instruction, show up to work on time and work independently,” said Minehart.
Survey results showed that 68 percent of technicians have participated in I-CAR training over the last two years and 36 percent said they have undergone some OEM training as well.
“While some in the industry are running away from the technical tsunami, those who run into it have everything to gain,” said Sobczak. “Our industry doesn’t have a choice on these changes so those willing to be proactive in their education across the board, especially I-CAR training, will reap great rewards.”
Some companies across the United States, such as Service King, offer apprentice programs for new repair technicians entering the field. Not only does this help develop their skills, but Soto said it also provides a support system and promotes the industry.
Three out of five shops surveyed said they hired at least one entry-level technician in the past year. When asked what they found to be the most effective recruitment method, the top three responses were asking vendors (44.9 percent), technical schools (38.1 percent) and online postings (37.9 percent.)
Respondents ranked general career fairs as being low on the list of effective recruitment methods. As a result, CREF said it has launched collision repair specific career fairs in 2016 to help increase success rates.
It was also found that more shops are participating on technical school advisory committees. “Of those businesses that have hired from a collision repair school program in their area, almost all would hire again,” according to the report’s findings.
Many businesses are now requiring technicians to attend technical school or have prior industry experience. Soto said that Service King requires a degree or certificate from a technical school or one year of industry experience.
With a total of 187,800 technicians surveyed, approximately one of every seven (14.5 percent) left their jobs over the last 12 months, according to survey results. The majority of technicians went to work at another shop (57 percent). “This is turnover within the industry and, while disruptive to an individual shop, does not increase or decrease the pool of available technicians,” the executive summary stated.
In regard to industry turnout, it was found that approximately one in 16 collision technicians (6.2 percent) exited the trade in the last year. Some moved to a different position in the automotive business, while others left completely or retired.
As the industry continues to grow, so will the need for more technicians. With a combination of industry outreach programs, proactive body shops and more communication overall, shops throughout the industry say that technicians will be assured of having a great career path to follow.
“Becoming a body tech enables anyone who has a passion for cars to turn that passion into a career,” said Minehart. “For those who like working with their hands and love cars, I can’t think of a better trade to join.”
Stay tuned for more information about upcoming initiatives involving hiring technicians of the future.
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