Every auto tech student in the country is asking the same questions, and the answers aren’t forthcoming.
When will collision repair programs at both the high school and college levels ever go back to normal? Will students still be able to graduate on time, or will it delay their careers in collision repair? How will it affect mentoring programs and shop internships? With an enormous need for new technicians, painters and estimators on a national level, will the COVID-19 pandemic create even a larger void?
To get the right answers to these questions, we interviewed several instructors and administrators in California to find out where they stand and what they’re doing to continue their programs during these confusing and uncertain times.
Laura Salas, Contra Costa College (CCC) collision repair faculty and automotive department chair, has been able to successfully transition from classroom to virtual instruction since March 16. Although she’s lost a handful of students since then, things are progressing well, considering the current situation.
“Some kids are flourishing in this new environment, but we did lose a few people during this time because some students lost their motivation for whatever reason,” she said. “One drawback of virtual instruction is the fact that we have no control as compared to being in a real classroom.”
When Salas realized a shutdown was inevitable, she made a definitive move that will keep her students on track to graduate.
“Our curriculum consists of 70% handon instruction, and luckily we completed all of that before we had to shut down,” Salas said. “The majority of our students are still active, taking virtual classes and turning in their assignments.”
Salas has become adept at finding relevant content online to supplement her classes and keep them engaged.
“I-CAR has some really helpful stuff online and we often access it for training and to answer the students’ questions,” she said. “PPG has some amazing training videos, and YouTube is also a great resource. We’re always searching for more content online, and much of it is free or low-cost, which is excellent.”
Peter Lock, CCC’s former dean, currently teaches collision repair at the school, and said he hasn’t seen anything like this during his four decades as a teacher and administrator.
“Our biggest fear is our kids will fall behind during this time,” he said. “We know that they’re not going to get everything they would normally. We are getting better at running a classroom online, because it requires a different approach. We always stress class engagement, which is obviously a lot easier in a classroom environment.”
To keep students afloat financially, emergency one-time $500 grants are available, and three of CCC’s students have already received checks, while others are applying.
“Keeping them in the program is our goal, but many of them might encounter issues with their financial aid during this time,” he said. "Some of them had to drop out to pursue essential jobs and others could lose their student housing as well. If this pandemic goes into the summer, their money issues could become more and more problematic and more assistance will undoubtedly be needed.”