Collision repair instructors from across the country recently had the opportunity to attend a four-day training program at the new 3M™ Skills Development Center (SDC). Located in Saint Paul, MN, the multimillion-dollar, 15,000-square-foot training center anchors 3M’s vision to provide comprehensive training to the collision repair industry.
“The automotive aftermarket is a very important segment of our business and people look to us as a leader in this industry,” said Dave Gunderson, president of 3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division. “Being a leader doesn't mean just selling the best products, but also responding to the needs of the industry and helping it grow.”
With a worldwide shortage of qualified technicians and increasingly complex vehicles being manufactured, 3M opened the SDC to bring awareness to the employment opportunities available in the industry, help instructors and technicians keep up with the latest technologies and ensure they are trained to repair vehicles properly.
The facility, located near the company’s headquarters, includes classrooms, a shop area with a 35-foot paint booth, workshop stations with electrical and air service, 12 welding stations and the latest equipment and tooling. Camera stations are set up through the classroom and shop areas to broadcast training sessions.
Unique Upskilling Opportunity for Instructors
Each summer for the past 13 years, 3M has invited collision repair teachers to apply to its Collision Repair Academy Collision Repair Instructor Training program held at the former training center on the 3M Campus. Since then, nearly 250 instructors, representing 185 schools across North America, have attended. The classes, offered at no charge, are designed to help upskill instructors to be in the best position to teach their students.
To apply for the program, prospective attendees share information about themselves, their collision repair programs and why they’d like to attend. The 3M team then rates the applications based on specific attributes.
“We really want to invite well-respected leaders who are impassioned about what they're doing in their organizations and want to support their students,” explained Gunderson. “We give priority to new teachers and instructors who have never attended before.”
This year, 32 instructors were asked to attend one of two four-day programs in late July and early August at the SDC.
3M instructors---Shawn Collins, Ryan Marrinan and Jason Garfoot---“trained the trainers,” using hands-on methods to reinforce key concepts supported by classroom theory and discussion. The program covered 3M-developed best practices in foundational body repair processes supported by OEM repair documentation in the areas of body repair tools and application techniques, panel removal and replacement, welding, corrosion protection techniques, aluminum substrate repair, dent repair methodology, paint preparation and masking, and paint finishing.
Jason Scharton, senior manager, Global Expertise Delivery for the 3M Automotive Aftermarket Division, said 3M instructors encouraged participants to push their skills, challenge their experience, advance their craft and learn from experts to expand their collision repair knowledge.
An important aspect of the program was teaching instructors how to approach the curriculum in their schools to engage students so they understand the material based on 3M’s unique training approach, “The Science of Why.”
Attendees were taught the “why” behind modern repair methods to absorb and retain practices that may vary from how things have been done over the last 30 years.
Historically, information has been passed down to technicians based on how things have always been done. Rather than teaching students to repair vehicles a certain way because someone said to, 3M explains the reasoning behind the repair process and the relevant importance based on OEM guidelines.
“We want them to know what they are doing really matters,” said Gunderson. “It’s not just that the car appearance looks good, but it’s repaired properly and safe to drive.”
“By introducing the Science of Why and explaining the reasoning, it allows them to understand and retain information so their behaviors change,” said Scharton.
Not only did they receive in-depth training, attendees had an opportunity to bond with each other, Scharton said.
“It's fun to see those connections and how they supported each other,” he said.
Part of the week also included a custom painting and masking competition using speedshapes.
As an I-CAR Sustaining Partner and Industry Training Alliance Partner, 3M works closely with the educational organization to develop and deliver courses that meet requirements based on defined knowledge and skill areas for different roles in the shop.
3M also consults with OEMs to not only make sure the most up to date repair procedures are used, but also on how the training sessions integrate with their certified network requirements.
Background on the 3M SDC
Founded in 1902, 3M was officially known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company until 2002. The American corporation manufactures a variety of products for multiple industries, including automotive, health care and consumer products. As part of the company’s mission to apply science to improve lives, 3M recognized the need to make an impactful contribution to the collision repair industry by building a world-class training facility.
Over the past several years, Gunderson has presented at a number of conferences, discussing how to encourage more people to join the industry.
“One of the biggest challenges is they just don't know what they don't know,” he noted. “We made this investment in the training facility to create an awareness of the opportunities available in the industry.”
From idea to completion, the path to opening the SDC has been a five-year journey led by project manager Adam Spah, application engineering manager at 3M. “While the pandemic slowed things down for a couple of years, our leadership team never wavered in their support of the team. They recognize the importance of continued skill development to the industry,” Spah said.
“We wanted this facility to be a destination to train technicians,” said Scharton.
The SDC will cater to a cross-section of students, including those entering the profession, as well as more experienced technicians and instructors.
A variety of classes will be offered, from fundamental skills new employees should know to more advanced training and upskilling.
By educating students and placing them in a collision repair facility, Gunderson said it’s exciting to see them realize they can build a career and make a really good income.
Students will have access to 3M instructors who are formally trained in their professions, articulate and have industry experience.
Scharton said their credibility as former collision technicians helps them connect with the students they teach.
“We look for what we call the ‘approachable expert,’ someone who can stand up, represent the science of why, and relate very comfortably with the technicians while speaking their language,” he explained.
3M plans to use the SDC as a test bed and learn from the model before scaling it in other major markets.
“This facility is hopefully a showpiece to allow us to do that,” said Scharton.
In addition to 3M’s other training centers around the globe, the 3M Collision Repair Academy offers online e-learning courses and videos. Plans include expanding the platform by adding virtual events and webinars.
“Our goal is to support the industry however and wherever they need it, whether that’s taking an online course to learn the process of using adhesive on a plastic repair or attending a live class at the SDC with a 3M expert to learn how to do a repair as successfully and safely as possible following OEM repair procedures,” said Scharton.
”Simply stated, we’re here to help,” concluded Gunderson.