Survey of Collision Students Offers Insights into Technician Shortage

Students in a North Texas college's highly successful collision repair education program revealed their expectations and challenges.

collision-repair-student-survey

The automotive industry is facing a critical shortage of collision repair technicians. According to a 2023 TechForce Foundation report, collision technicians in the U.S. have decreased over the past six years, leaving 31,426 unfilled positions nationwide. However, there is a glimmer of hope in North Texas, where enrollment in Collin College’s collision technology program has increased 350%.

In Allen, TX, Collin College's collision technology program allows students to choose between two associate's degree pathways. One with guided work experience allows students to reinforce what they have learned in the classroom and lab. Each semester, the student attends classes for eight weeks and then works side-by-side with a mentor for eight weeks. The other allows students to attend classes for the entire semester.

RavenHartkopf CollinCollegeRaven Hartkopf, professor of collision technology at Collin College.

The college initiated the program in 2020 with just 10 students. By the end of the spring 2024 semester, enrollment had surged to 54 students, including 12 female students, making up 22% of the cohort.

Raven Hartkopf, professor of collision technology at Collin College, recently conducted an updated survey of approximately 70 of the 100 collision shops in Collin County. The survey explored the attitudes of body shop owners and student technicians toward the workplace. The findings reveal that while student technicians are enthusiastic about their careers, employers must enhance support to retain this new talent.

Key Findings from the Student Technician Perspective

Workplace Benefits

Health care insurance emerged as the most coveted benefit among students. Hartkopf noted many small business owners struggle to offer this benefit, which can hinder their ability to attract skilled talent. 

Additionally, providing toolboxes could be a significant incentive, yet few employers offer this benefit. Collin College wanted its students to be better equipped for entry-level work. So it applied for and recently received the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) Grant, which will supply students with 40 rolling toolboxes fitted with essential tools valued at around $1,600 each, alongside tuition coverage for four classes, uniforms and textbooks.

Salary Expectations

Salary expectations are influenced by the diverse demographics of the program’s students, ranging from 16 to 57 years old. Many nontraditional students have families and higher living costs, making $12 per hour insufficient. The survey indicated most students expect to earn between $15 and $19 per hour to meet the high cost of living in North Texas.

Career Aspirations

The majority of students in the collision technology associate’s degree program aspire to become body technicians or painters rather than office roles like estimators or shop owners. Hartkopf emphasizes the importance of continued education and skill development, advocating for employers to invest in their employees' professional growth.

Hartkopf also tells students their education at Collin College is only the beginning and they should continue learning and building on their training. “Most of these students want to continue learning beyond this program and continue their professional development,” she said.

She believes employers have a responsibility to uplevel their employees’ skills. 

“Because of the technician shortage, sometimes we miss the mark, and we’re concerned more about having a warm body in a particular role instead of ensuring that person is fitted with the best skills possible,” Hartkopf said. “Our students finish our program with a trainable mindset.”

One of the distinguishing characteristics of those super successful students is the one who rise above the average have dedicated mentors in their lives, pouring in knowledge and hands-on training. She said mentors guide them in their journey and offer support along the way.

She encourages body shop owners to pair student apprentices with mentors to set them up for the best possible success.

Confidence Level

Fifteen out of 18 respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel confident working in the collision industry.” Hartkopf’s survey highlights that independent shop owners are generally more flexible with student apprentices’ schedules compared to larger MSOs. She advises shop owners to be more accommodating, allowing students to work part-time to gain experience, which can lead to full-time positions upon graduation.

Body shop owners can significantly benefit from understanding and addressing the needs and expectations of collision repair students. Shops can attract and retain skilled technicians by offering competitive salaries, valuable benefits and flexible working conditions, mitigating the industry's labor shortage. Additionally, fostering a supportive learning environment with dedicated mentors can enhance the professional development of these future technicians, ensuring they are well-prepared and motivated for long-term careers in collision repair.

Leona Scott

Contributing Writer
With extensive experience in the auto care industry and working for nonprofits, Leona D. Scott has dedicated years to crafting compelling content for print... Read More

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