Techs of the Future: Matrix Trade Institute’s Efficiency Bootcamps Help Collision Repair Industry Grow and Retain Employees
Written by Stacey Phillips, Autobody News
Published Feb. 8, 2022
Many say one of the most alarming issues in the collision industry right now and in the foreseeable future is the desperate need for technicians.
The industry is losing techs to retirement, and competition for tradespeople is at an all-time high. While the need to recruit thousands of techs into the industry isn’t going away anytime soon, the need for a disruptive retention model is even more important, according to Dustin Peugeot, CEO of the Matrix Trade Institute (MTI) located in Beachwood, OH.
“We need thousands and thousands of them over the next 10 years, but the current model shows that over two-thirds of people who graduate from a post-secondary school defect from the industry in less than a year,” said Peugeot. “If the industry can’t find better ways to retain and grow technicians, then worrying about recruiting them is wasted energy.”
Peugeot said retention is where MTI is making a difference by offering four-day, 30-hour, 80% hands-on Efficiency Bootcamps to employers so they can provide employees with specific skills and efficiencies to accelerate their growth.
“MTI’s Efficiency Bootcamps are a core part of our program and what makes us truly unique from any other school,” said Peugeot. “This business-to-business offering was designed to help shops upskill and retain employees efficiently and cost effectively.”
Employers provide their technicians with MTI’s self-assessment, which allows workers to feel valued and play a role in their own career development.
“When the technician’s goals and desire for growth meets the shop’s need to increase capacity and retain valuable employees, then MTI is the connection point,” he said. “Matrix bootcamps provide an experience that shops can’t offer in addition to a return on investment (ROI) that pays short- and long-term dividends.”
Over the years, Peugeot has found more and more shops are recognizing retention must be prioritized over recruiting to ensure the next generation stays in the industry and with the companies who hire them.
“This industry doesn’t just have a recruiting problem; it has a retention problem,” said Peugeot. “Retention is different today than it used to be… you have to have a better offering with a better path and execution, and it has to be fulfilling and meaningful for employees. There’s too much competition to be able to afford not getting it right.”
With people defecting from the industry for jobs with companies like Amazon or Walmart that promise career paths filled with attractive promises and benefits, or competing trades that are paying more and more for services every day, Peugeot said the industry is missing a vital connection point between the skills needed to succeed and the industry’s ability to provide ongoing career development that allows new hires to see the vision and grow as fast as they’d like to.
“Employees need real, tangible career education so they can learn and earn simultaneously and have confidence that it’s going to connect to real development,” he said. “I think that’s what the traditional model is missing right now and that’s what we offer.”
To help address the growing concern of recruiting, developing and retaining the next generation of technicians, Peugeot established MTI in 2019 with Rick Blum, COO.
When the institute first opened, its primary focus was to offer automotive efficiency training for auto technicians and mechanics. Peugeot and Blum soon recognized the vital need for collision technicians and expanded the program to include a collision repair technical efficiency program.
The training encompasses a 20-week, employer-centric, 80% hands-on repetition-based curriculum with an eight-to-one teacher-student ratio. The goal is to prepare graduates to work in dealerships, collision centers and franchised and/or independent repair facilities. Students attend class in the mornings throughout the week and are encouraged to intern with a repair facility in the afternoons. This allows them to apply the hands-on training they learn at school.
With tradespeople in such high demand, MTI aims to provide job-ready automotive and collision technicians who don’t necessarily have industry experience. Peugeot said MTI differs from the traditional model where students attend a couple of years of school and receive a broad certification. Instead, the institute teaches skills that provide students with a good foundation. This includes hands-on repetitions and relevant skills so they can be productive, confident and efficient.
“We try to make sure that we are preparing them mentally for how they can contribute,” Peugeot noted. “We are giving them a dose of what life is like in a shop as they grow their skillset.”
Peugeot and Blum both have 25 years of experience in the industry. While Peugeot’s career has focused on dealer operations and collision centers, Blum is a master technician who successfully transitioned into a service director before embarking on the Matrix journey.
“We are industry people who went about creating a new type of school, not education people who added automotive and collision programs,” said Peugeot. “We think there is a large differentiator there.”
Since the program started, more than 250 students have graduated from MTI. That number is expected to increase substantially since adding the collision focus. Future plans include adding ASE and federal accreditation in 2022 and then expanding to other locations across the country.
Three of the initial supporters of the automotive program, Conrad’s Tire Express & Total Car Care, Penske Automotive Cleveland and Serpentini Chevrolet, have become foundation level sponsors of MTI’s auto program.
“These are some of the early adopters who recognized that this is a different model focused on real efficiency and the skills employers are looking for,” said Peugeot.
After adding collision repair training to the program, Peugeot said MTI connected with DCR Systems, located 15 minutes away in Mentor, OH, almost instantly.
“DCR was quick to identify itself as a company that recognizes that their future was all about their ability to train their own,” he said. The company became MTI’s first corporate sponsor of collision repair.
“Forward-thinking companies like DCR challenge the norm and help keep Matrix at the forefront of what’s new and meaningful in this constantly evolving industry,” said Peugeot. “The alignment of DCR’s lean philosophy and the way Matrix teaches skill-specific hands-on efficiency makes for a natural alignment between the two companies.”
Michael Giarrizzo, president and CEO of DCR Systems, said MTI is a forward-thinking school that isn’t focused on teaching students to repair vehicles the old and traditional way.
“They are teaching students the baseline skills needed in a repeatable, process-centered environment,” said Giarrizzo. “We’re proud to partner with an organization that is looking for our feedback to grow the technicians of tomorrow.”
Since sponsoring MTI, DCR Systems has offered input on the school’s curriculum, provided information about its repair processes and supplied tooling. Giarrizzo and Dave Martin, director of operations at DCR Systems, regularly visit MTI to talk to students about the industry and invite technicians to tour DCR. In addition, several MTI students have been hired by DCR and attend boot camps to continue career development.
“Schools like Matrix are looking at technology and the industry as it is today and trying to prepare them for the increasing challenges of the industry,” said Cheryl Boswell, CFO and managing partner at DCR Systems. “The industry has changed so much that it’s important to find those tech schools where they are grooming the students for today’s world.”
Adrian, an operations support technician from DCR Systems, attended an MTI Blueprint/Technical writing boot camp focused on becoming an effective blueprinter.
“I’m learning to be as accurate as I can be, make the process work and slow down to achieve first time quality---a savings for everyone,” he said. “The DCR Systems family cares for me. They want me to improve and build a career and I want to improve for the company.”
Rife’s Autobody, a three-shop MSO in Ohio now owned by CollisionRight, has had success with the MTI Collision Bootcamps for its employees. Don Rife, former owner and current operator of the business, learned about MTI about a year ago and sent Tyler, a metal tech apprentice with no prior industry knowledge, to one of the boot camps.
“The experience seemed to work out really well and we have other technicians that we are planning to send in the future,” said Rife.
After attending a blueprinting Efficiency Bootcamp at MTI, Tyler said he learned how to be more accurate in his job.
“MTI made the environment so it’s not stressful,” he said. “It’s going to help everyone in the shop; not just me, but our estimators, the parts department and the people I work with, making things quicker, faster and more efficient.”
Rife has initiated internal training programs in the past but found that partnering with others who are experienced at training technicians, such as MTI, results in better success.
“Unless you are some amazing operator and have unlimited resources, you are better to partner with somebody who has already done this and understands what’s necessary than trying to recreate the wheel,” he said.
Since Rife’s initial success with Tyler, CollisionRight has become the second foundation level partner of MTI’s Collison Program, and is in the process of providing employee assessments to its young technicians to take advantage of the growth and retention the boot camps provide to CollisionRight’s growing list of shops.
Peugeot said businesses like DCR Systems and CollisionRight, that invest in their people and provide a great career experience, will be the ones that are ultimately successful.
“There are too many employers who want to hire people the old-fashioned way and pay them a little and not do progressive things to develop them or provide onboarding experiences that are positive and culturally right for this generation,” noted Peugeot.
He said shops that want to pay ransom and steal technicians from other shops aren’t fixing the industry.
“They are hurting the industry… but in a world where they don’t have a better option, it’s all that they can do,” he observed.
Peugeot stressed the importance of recognizing young technicians are an asset and recommends employers offer competitively paid internships and tuition reimbursement, as well as devote the time and resources to ensure there is a good onboarding experience. This includes providing a career path and letting technicians know management cares about their growth.
“They want to feel like they are connected to the goals of the employer and feel part of something larger,” said Peugeot.
Peugeot’s advice to shops is to take time to understand their next technicians are already in their market.
“They just don’t understand how to get into the collision industry and learn what they need to learn fast enough in an organized fashion to make the leap,” he said. “Shops willing to take that seriously and provide the training they’ll need to have confidence to make the leap find this magical thing that occurs over time---they no longer have a recruiting problem.”