Solving the Tech Shortage: CCI Provides Defined Career Path, Training for Entry-Level Techs

The Collision Career Institute can produce a standalone tech in about 18 months, according to one of its co-founders.

AJ Gaston, general manager at Fix Auto Downey in California, said CCI’s program has helped educate technicians on how to properly repair modern vehicles.

One of the most talked-about challenges in the collision repair industry today is the significant shortage of skilled workers. The Collision Career Institute (CCI) was established in 2015 to help solve this crisis.

"We designed a program to supercharge the growth of collision repair teams across the United States," said Erick Bickett, co-founder and CEO of CCI. "Our team's sole purpose is the learners' success."

Bickett said the genesis of CCI was rooted in necessity. Known by many in the industry as a visionary and innovator, Bickett recognized the dire need for new industry talent. With a resume including initiatives like the Collision Industry Electronic Commerce Association (CIECA), Fix Auto USA and Caliber Collision, he realized the challenges facing collision repairers.

Bickett wasn't alone in his quest. He partnered with Charlie Robertson, a recognized authority in collision repair education with more than 25 years of experience, over the shared vision of revolutionizing the way collision repair professionals were trained.

"A lot of shops think the problem has been around a half a dozen years or so, but it has been an ongoing problem for a long time," noted Robertson, CCI president and co-founder.

With Bickett's industry acumen and Robertson's educational expertise, they set out to tackle the tech shortage.

Their plans were met with an unforeseen challenge -- the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Because of our dedication to the industry and future leaders, CCI pivoted during the pandemic to assist technical schools and provide curriculum support at no cost," said Robertson.

In-Shop Collision Repair Education

CCI then embarked on a journey to redefine in-shop collision repair training.

"Our approach was simple yet revolutionary," said Bickett. "We worked toward providing a comprehensive curriculum that addressed the core challenges facing the industry."

Their efforts were supported by the addition of a new team member, Dan Dutra, vice president of business development.

"Dan's dedication to the industry is matched only by his commitment to excellence," said Robertson. "Together, we're united in our mission to reshape the future of collision repair."

Dutra said they listened to shop owners, career and technical school educators, insurers, technicians and students to refine the curriculum and support materials that deliver skills to new industry entrants.

"CCI has every variable covered at this point and will produce productive standalone techs inside of 18 months," he said.

Bickett emphasized that CCI's vision extends beyond technical skills.

"It is about instilling a mindset of excellence and innovation," he shared. "Our program focuses on teaching entry-level technicians collision repair skills so they can be successful and productive."

The CCI team has found the holistic approach resonates with shop owners and industry professionals.

"CCI's goal is to provide a defined career path and training for those interested in joining the industry or already working in the industry in less critical roles," Bickett explained.

Bridging the gap between classroom theory and real-world application has had its challenges, according to Robertson.

"The challenging shop dynamics make it very difficult for a new person to learn," he said.

To address this, CCI adopted a competency-based approach to learning, focused on mastery instead of completion.

"Rather than being time-based as with most schools, CCI's program is competency-based," Robertson clarified.

The program is approved by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards and registered as a national apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Implementing CCI Training in Your Shop

CCI begins with a tailored assessment of the shop.

"It is critical that a shop has the right learning environment and culture to embark on this journey," said Dutra.

In most cases, CCI recommends repair centers evaluate the company's culture and environment before bringing in recruits. They've found some of the best candidates come from their own detail and parts departments, those who are already part of the team and known to be trusted and dependable.

"Ideal entry-level candidates include those who show up on time every day, are trustworthy and respectful and have excellent soft skills," noted Robertson.

CCI helps shops match an applicant s work style and personality with their trainer to ensure it is a good fit.

"We don't suggest using the highest-performing technician in the shop," said Bickett. "Instead, we look for a trainer who might be a little older, needs a helper, and has the 'teacher gene' -- someone who wants to give back to the industry."

"We use a combination of work style and personality assessments that have been customized and tailored to our industry," added Robertson. "Apprentices then start training using a mapped-out plan, tracking and measurement to ensure they have gained the skills needed to be successful."

The program was designed to work with all the established processes and variables in a shop.

"We work closely with shops to transform their teams' capabilities," explained Dutra. "CCI guides apprentices through the skills they need to be successful through online learning and on-the-job skills development, utilizing the work assigned to their trainer."

"We provide a road map for the in-shop trainer to allow apprentices to learn the skills they need to be successful," added Robertson.

CCI's process develops skilled apprentices while they contribute to the business' bottom line.

"We also provide repair centers with suggested tool strategies, pay plans and resources to track and measure the transfer of skills to help apprentices produce more than they cost within 90 days of the program starting," Robertson said.

The online program is delivered through the Canvas Learning Management system. It includes presentations, videos, handouts and skills-tracker workbooks. Students can access the materials on their smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

"Apprentices experience every angle of the repair process in their chosen career path, as a technician, painter or repair planner," explained Robertson.

The online courses are supplemented with skills-tracker workbooks for apprentices to keep track of their developing skills. QR codes link to "how to" videos explaining how to perform each skill. The trainer guide provides step-by-step directions for trainers, helping them improve skills-transfer to learners.

As students progress, they repeat skills from previous courses so no skill diminishes during their apprenticeship.

"This ensures a learner has the skills to perform work in a live shop environment," said Dutra.

Ultimately, he said they must contribute to the bottom-line by helping move cars through the shop during the learning process.

"With CCI's guidance, shops can transition entry-level candidates to B-level body techs, painters and estimators," said Dutra.

"We are inclusive, not exclusive," said Robertson. "We don't think we're the only ones with the answer and are open to working with others who have a piece of the puzzle to help solve this dilemma."

Read about one shop's experience using CCI to train two new technicians.

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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