VIDEO: Pro Spot's CREF Career Fair Helps Students & Employers Connect

VIDEO: Pro Spot's CREF Career Fair Helps Students & Employers Connect

The headquarters at Pro Spot International in Carlsbad, CA, was busier than usual in March when the company hosted a Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) career fair.

Busloads of high school and college students arrived at the company's location ready to meet potential employers and learn more about the collision repair industry.

Approximately 350 students from San Diego and surrounding communities attended the event, which included lunch and a tour of the facility where Pro Spot manufactures resistant spot welding equipment and products. The students also had to the opportunity to talk to the 15 companies who were there to discuss future employment options and what it takes to be prepared. They included collision repair facilities, a technical school, rental car company and other industry stakeholders.

“These events have been great in terms of helping create that connection between the students and future employers,” said Brandon Eckenrode, CREF’s director of development. “The students are able to meet companies first-hand and learn about the industry.”

The event was one of 20 career fairs planned by CREF this year across the country. This is the second year the Spring Career Fairs have been held. CREF kicked off the first of the year in February in Des Moines, IA. More than 1,000 students registered for the March career fairs held in San Diego, as well as Houston and Dallas, Texas.

Eckenrode said the career fairs are a key component of the foundation’s mission to “support repair educational programs, schools, and students to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with an array of career opportunities.”

“Our whole focus is about employment,” said Clark Plucinski, the executive director of CREF. “Not just with the career fairs, but everything the foundation is working on.” This includes scholarship and grants, SkillsUSA and other programs that encourage and support young collision repair students to pursue careers in the collision repair industry.

Plucinski said over $60 million has been donated to CREF to support students in the industry since 2009, when the organization embraced the change from helping schools with the I-CAR curriculum to philanthropic fundraising to support the schools. In 2016 alone, more than $12 million was provided to high school and college collision school programs through CREF. This was an increase of over 13% from the previous year.

“We’re very thankful that Pro Spot hosted the event. Pro Spot’s involvement has been tremendous. They’ve donated nearly $400,000 to the Foundation overall (both monetary and in-kind donations), which includes welders that we are able to distribute out to the schools,” said Eckenrode. “It’s through the industry’s generosity that we’re able to have these type of events.”

Ashley Olsson, the director of communications at Pro Spot, said it was exciting to meet the students and show them Pro Spot’s operation. The company owns three patents for special welding equipment and applications and works with the majority of the largest auto manufacturers in the world. During the career fair, demonstration stations were set up where students could see where the company designs and manufacturers resistance spot welders, aluminum and steel dent repair systems, pulse MIG welders, rivet guns and tools, dust-free sanding systems, fume extraction and more. She said Pro Spot is proud to be a “made in the U.S.” manufacturer.

“We want students to know there are a lot of jobs available in this industry,” said Olsson. “Most people who go to tech schools think that they can only be body techs but what we’re trying to do is let them know there are different career opportunities available.” She said the career fair gives them the opportunity to talk to others in the industry such as collision repair facilities, insurance companies and technical schools.

Service King was one of the companies at the event. “The benefit is to educate the students on opportunities that they can have once they graduate,” said Carmen Ayala of Service King. “The other benefit is for them to really understand what they are learning and they can apply to real life and make a career out of it.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Daniel Panduro, owner of Fix Auto Sun Valley, another attendee. “The emphasis is on meeting students today and talking about the collision repair industry as a whole.”

Panduro said he enjoys coming out and meeting the students who are getting ready to graduate and really aren’t sure what they want to do. “I remember being in that position,” said Panduro. “I think it’s really cool that they have options available and we just want to be another option. “I have a passion for creating opportunities for our youth because I think it goes hand-in-hand with what we need.”

“It’s really meant to open their eyes to the different things they could do after they are done with high school,” said Javier Valencia, a campus admissions representative from Universal Technical Institute (UTI). UTI regularly attends the career fairs to explain the types of training students will receive with the CRRT program and how it will benefit them in their future careers. “Students can earn nine I-CAR certifications in our program---platinum level status,” said Valencia. “When students are looking for a school, they need to look for one that is right for them.”

Long-time members of the collision repair industry also came out to show their support. Elisabeth Sobczak, a performance training coordinator from I-CAR, attended the event as part of I-CAR’s partnership with CREF. “I don’t know of an industry where people go to the lengths that CREF does to show people the opportunities available to them,” said Sobczak. “They go above and beyond, helping with support and getting the funds out there.”

She said the career fairs are more than just about being a mechanic or collision tech. “We have kids and young adults in this industry who have an opportunity that I don’t think they realize is there,” said Sobczak. “The career fairs are an opportunity to show people and to show women that you can do anything. If it interests you, and you do it well, you have champions all around you willing to help you succeed.”

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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