Schools Could Focus on Teaching Fewer Auto Body Skills More Thoroughly

back to school

Attendees at this summer’s Collision Industry Conference (CIC) ranked finding new employees with entry-level collision repair skills as auto body shops’ biggest hurdle, when compared to training or retaining new employees, or finding new employees without entry-level skills, and the CIC Talent Pool and Education Committee is suggesting one potential way to address the issue.

“We don’t have enough new technicians coming into the industry, and the question is: are we maybe setting the bar too high,” said committee member Kurt Lammon of Polyvance. “Are we expecting an Olympian [athlete], when the high school runner-up will do?”

Lammon said NATEF and other accreditation programs often list dozens or even hundreds of skills schools are expected to cover in their collision repair curriculums. But many shops say just five basic skills---dent repair, paint prep, detailing, plastic repair and the ability to remove and replace bolted-on parts---would be enough to make an entry-level employee productive within a shop from day one.

Bud Center, chairman of the committee, said the committee isn’t suggesting schools teach only those five skills, but “to have a more intense focus on that so [students] have the knowledge and skills to come out and be productive when they hit the shop floor.”

Lammon said Caliber Collision uses a “Changing Lanes” program to recruit and quickly retrain those leaving the military for entry-level jobs in collision repair by focusing on “those five skills, plus a couple more, but not too much more.”

The committee is in the early stages of creating a summary---some of its preliminary work is housed for now on the Polyvance website---that lists the various “learning outcomes” needed for each of the five basic skills, as well as potential sources for training for those specific skills.

CIC Chairman Darrell Amberson asked the committee how the five skills concept could be presented “to a college or student so you don’t discourage those that are interested in seeking that higher level?”

Center said that’s something the committee discussed.

“If you tell a kid, ‘You’re going to learn five skills,’ they’re going to have a hard time recruiting kids into the program,” he said. “So we still have to keep the other knowledge and skills in the curriculum. It’s just that there will be a much heavier focus on these five skills.”

The committee first addressed the topic of narrowing the set of skills students are encouraged to master last year as a possible way to expand the pool of collision repair training programs in schools, particularly at the high school level.

Gene Lopez, who co-chaired the committee at that time, said 25 years of industry surveys conducted by the Collision Repair Education Foundation have shown those top five tasks shops expect an entry-level technician to be able to perform have remained remarkably consistent over that quarter century.

Gene Lopez

The best training programs produce entry-level workers with these skills and far more, and that shouldn’t change, Lopez suggested. But a new high school program that focuses on just those five, along with some training in safety, employability and soft skills, would have far “less of a burden on budget requirements for equipment, tools and materials in these high schools,” Lopez said.

It also could expand the pool of potential instructors qualified to teach such programs, leading to “a renewed acceptance of collision technology in our high school systems,” he said.

Lopez said too often schools offer training “that’s a mile wide but only an inch deep.”

“They can’t spend enough time on those top five skill sets because they’re introducing welding, frame straightening and estimating, which really isn’t a need for an entry-level technician,” he said.

But adding more training programs, even if they just focus on the “keystone of learning in collision repair,” could introduce more employable entry-level workers to the industry. 

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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