Toby Chess recalls planning a collision repair training day for about 80 high school students in Hawthorne, CA, 25 years ago. Since then, he’s had a passion for training young people and bringing them into the collision industry.
About two years ago, he was visiting a body shop and a newer employee was asked by his supervisor to sweep floors and do menial tasks.
“I asked his supervisor why he didn’t buy him some tools so he could feel part of the team,” said Chess, who ultimately bought tools for the budding technician. “The expression on his face was unbelievable.”
Fast forward to the present and Chess said shops are in the same predicament as they were when it comes to hiring and retaining staff.
“We all need technicians,” said Chess. “We've been talking about that for years but what are shops doing about it?”
Chess stresses the importance of keeping young people engaged and setting a career path for them.
“It’s critical to find ways to motivate these young people and keep them engaged or they won’t stay,” said Chess, who embarked on a project to encourage independent shop owners to initiate mentorship programs.
Chess supplies a set of tools to the helper and asks shop owners to provide toolboxes. He also shares best practices documents he created that the mentor and mentee can follow to help standardize the repair and can be used in conjunction with OEM repair procedures and proper personal protective equipment. These include repair planning, corrosion protection, bumper repair, vehicle measuring and glue tab dent repair.
“We have to take steps to give back to the industry and address the technician shortage,” said Chess. “Otherwise, nothing will change.”
As a long-term instructor with I-CAR for more than 25 years, Chess reached out to the organization about the program. I-CAR is offering support to his endeavors and working with him to amplify his efforts.
“I-CAR is proud to support the efforts of leaders in our industry, like Toby, who are making strides to foster a learning culture and growth mindset in our shops---particularly with new technicians,” said Dara Goroff, I-CAR’s vice president of planning and industry talent programming. “It’s an exciting time to be a professional in collision repair and we want to highlight the purpose new technicians find within it when they’re presented with opportunities that contribute to a complete, safe and quality repair for the safety of their customers.”
The following six shops in Southern California shared information about the support Chess has provided with their mentorship programs, supplying tools to mentees and training.
Anthony’s Body & Paint
While working as a tow truck driver in the mid-1970s, Eddie Nouri admired how vehicles were repaired at the body shops he visited and eventually opened Anthony’s Body & Paint in Santa Monica, CA, in 1979. Since then, Nouri has purchased about 10 other shops, built them up and sold them.
Currently, he operates a facility in Inglewood in addition to his Santa Monica location. They have a total of about 50 employees and 10 OEM certifications.
As a result of the pandemic, Nouri found they were shorthanded.
He said 20 or 30 years ago, it was common for body men to bring in relatives to the shop as helpers who eventually became technicians.
“Toby, having a good heart, suggested we hire some people, give them tools and train them,” recalled Nouri.
Nouri reached out to friends and relatives who knew of unemployed individuals and hired four as helpers to be mentored by his more experienced technicians.
“I gave each technician a helper and Toby gave them toolboxes and trained them,” said Nouri. “They are going to be body men within a year or two.”
He encourages other body shops to do the same and help develop the next generation of technicians.
Nouri has known Chess for many years and is appreciative of the training and assistance he has provided.
“I consider myself a successful and happy person and I owe Toby a lot of gratitude because he has taught me a lot,” said Nouri. “I noticed that every technician loves Toby and wants to improve themselves after working with him.”
Collision Consultants Auto Body & Paint Shop
Founded in 1989, Collision Consultants Auto Body & Paint Shop is owned by Sam Zamir and his partners. Over the years, the company has built a reputation as a high-end specialist, being among the first in Los Angeles to do aluminum repairs and work on electric vehicles (EVs) and new technology in cars. The business is certified by Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and a few other manufacturers, and is I-CAR Gold Class.
Zamir has a close relationship with several local tech schools and is often asked to speak with students about the “real-world experience.”
“Because I invest so much in equipment and training and am personally knowledgeable in various aspects of the shop, I can take a student out of tech school and offer them a career,” he said. “This includes ongoing training and immediate over-the-shoulder guidance while they're doing the work.”
Zamir and Chess have been friends for many years. “He travels across the country to support shops that are willing to train their staff,” said Zamir. “He is a true friend of the industry, and like many true friends, he doesn't seek nor get the appreciation he deserves.”
European Motor Car Works
In the 1970s, Kye Yeung enrolled in an auto body and paint course at the local community college to repair his car and didn’t realize it would become a lifelong passion. He opened European Motor Car Works in Costa Mesa, CA, in 1975 when he was 20, just out of college.
He currently has 25 employees, many of whom are family members who have been with the company for more than 20 years; the longest is 39 years. These include his daughters Nichole and Jennifer, his son-in-law Mike Hubbard and grandson Connor. Many of other employees have relatives who also work at the shop.
Yeung has put many processes in place to help hire and retain technicians. These include maintaining a healthy work environment, giving employee bonuses for referrals, offering top pay and the necessary tooling to perform tasks, and providing OEM training to allow constant growth.
“We keep them interested by diversifying what they do day-to-day,” said Yeung. “Having them work in different departments allows us to gauge where they are most proficient.”
He stresses the importance of the industry working together to address the technician shortage and getting involved in organizations such as the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). He has been part of both organizations for more 15 years.
Yeung met Chess and well-respected shop owner March Taylor when they visited his facility in 2005.
When Taylor passed away, Chess asked if Yeung would like to take his place on the CIC Technical Committee.
“We went on to spearhead the SCRS Educational Committee and founded the Kool Tools of SEMA videos and presentations,” said Yeung. “We are lifelong friends and I have the greatest respect for him.”
Jim & Jack's Collision Center
Jim & Jack’s Collision Center in El Segundo, CA, was established in 1967. Many of the employees at the family-owned and operated facility have been with the company for more than 15 years.
Richie Kizirian’s uncles, Jim and Jack, gave him opportunity to run the business in 2003 and implement innovative ideas.
“Customer service is our No. 1 priority,” said Kizirian. “We have serviced the South Bay communities for over 56 years and have become a household name to our clientele.”
The company has 18 OEM certifications and prides itself on having friendly management who ensure everyone feels like family.
Kizirian has taken many steps to hire and retain technicians. These include providing a clean work environment, investing in tools and OEM certifications, paying above market rate to ensure staff has financial stability and providing benefits such as paid vacations, health insurance and a 401K.
Kizirian said it is critical the industry supports local trade schools.
“Quality technicians are depleting and providing support to new talent is the only way to combat the shortage,” he said.
Kizirian has known Chess for 25 years.
“There isn’t anyone I have met who is so passionate about the industry and to help in any way possible,” said Kizirian. “Toby will always go the extra mile to help a friend or technician in need and I’m extremely fortunate to know him as a colleague and a friend!”
Marina Auto Body
Tom Williamson, owner of Marina Auto Body, operates three locations, Marina Del Rey, Inglewood and Huntington Beach, CA. The company has 49 employees and is a Lexus Authorized Collision Center as well as the collision center for Toyota of Huntington Beach and Lexus of Westminster.
Williamson acknowledges the challenge and expense of hiring, training and retaining technicians.
“We all know the industry is aging out,” he said. “The shortage of skilled labor has had a negative impact on all trades.”
To help meet the challenge, Williamson said he offers a good wage, benefits, clean, well-equipped shops and training.
He hired a recent tech, Brandon Candelaria, after meeting him at a local car show. The two discussed their mutual interest in Pontiacs and Williamson learned Candelaria was taking auto body classes at a community college. He asked him to come and work at Marina Auto Body and offered to compensate Candelaria for learning and supply him with tools as he continued to show growth.
“He is a future super star of the industry,” said Williamson.
Williamson is appreciative of the tools Chess supplied Candelaria. Throughout their long friendship, Williamson said Chess has always been available to share training and repair techniques.
“He has been supportive with trainees by supplying basic hand tools, training and encouragement for the trainee,” he said.
Scandinavian Coachcraft was established in 2001 by Ole Vandborg, who learned the trade in Europe as an apprentice and has lived in Los Angeles for 37 years. The collision repair facility focuses on quality repairs and has five structural certifications, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mazda and Volvo.
To retain technicians and new talent, Vandborg recommends having up-to-date equipment, and offering continual training and good pay.
“We take part in all of the I-CAR training available and our technicians are aluminum- and steel-certified welders,” said Vandborg. “The paint crew is certified as well and we send a couple of our employees to Europe every year for training.”
Over the years, Chess has done a lot of training at the facility, which has 30 employees. “They all know him and what he expects from them,” said Vandborg. “He has done a fabulous job moving an average tech to a super tech… he is a saint for all his dedication to the collision industry.”