Stacey Phillips

Stacey Phillips photoStacey Phillips is a freelance writer for the automotive industry based in Southern California. She has 20 years of experience as an editor including writing in a number of businesses and fields.


She can be reached at sphillips.autobodynews@gmail.com. 

Monday, 24 August 2020 15:31

Techs of the Future: The Importance of Creating Lifelong Learners and Implementing Hands-on Efficiency Training

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John Helterbrand, right, department chair of the automotive collision repair program at Ranken Technical College, with students Spencer Woodall and Robert Burkett. John Helterbrand, right, department chair of the automotive collision repair program at Ranken Technical College, with students Spencer Woodall and Robert Burkett.


Author's note: Over a year ago, Jeff Smith, a collision repair instructor at the Northeast Arkansas Career and Technical Center, reached out to me about the overwhelming shortage of technicians. As a result of our conversation, I initiated a new column for Autobody News, "Solving the Tech Shortage," which has since received an award.

At the time, shop owners and managers faced a shared challenge: how and where to find new technicians. My intent was to come up with ways for the industry to discuss ideas on how to solve this problem. Since then, our industry has encountered new unexpected challenges due to the pandemic. In light of the recent changes in shops across the country, I felt it was appropriate to rename the column to “Techs of the Future” and focus on ways body shops can help recruit, develop and retain technicians for the future.


I encourage you to reach out to me with any ideas you would like to share with others in this forum.


Workforce development and technician recruitment remain a top priority for repair shops across the country.


Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), said there are some unique initiatives currently taking place in the industry.


“The reality is the gap we have is far too wide for any one program to simply wipe away,” said Schulenburg. “The more opportunities there are to pull people into this industry, bring them up to speed with what they need and get them ready to be producing on the shop floor, the more the industry will benefit.”


During the SCRS open board meeting in July, the association invited two educators from Ranken Technical College and Matrix Trade Institute to share information about the programs they have established and how they are making a difference.


Creating Lifelong Learners at Ranken Technical College


A few years ago, John Helterbrand recognized many of the students graduating from the automotive collision repair program at Ranken Technical College in Missouri couldn’t find a job. Although they had successfully earned their associate’s degree, were eager to work and had a good work ethic, the department chair of the program said they weren’t being hired by the collision repair industry.


“As an educator, that’s a big problem,” said Helterbrand.


As a result, he set out to make some changes. Helterbrand reached out to the school’s advisory board, and then talked to students to learn about their concerns. He soon found retention was one of the main issues.


“Students felt they didn’t fit into a shop’s culture or were making a difference; they were essentially lost in the business model,” said Helterbrand. “We’re all so busy doing processes, we forget we’re people.”

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