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I-CAR CEO on Industry Evolution

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I-CAR has played a strong role in the collision industry through its training offerings since 1979. But by 2007, support from the inter-industry was waning and participation in I-CAR training dropped off, says John Edelen, I-CAR CEO. That prompted the organization to consult with folks in the business to find out why the apathy was happening and what to do about it. What I-CAR learned led to a fundamental change within the organization, most notably this summer’s launch of a new role-based training model. FenderBender’s Andrew Johnson sat down with Edelen to discuss that training model, and what it could mean for you.
 

I-CAR’s industry support began decreasing in 2007. What did I-CAR do to tackle the problem?

We needed to do some in-depth fact-finding and to have some focused engagement with the industry around the perceived value of I-CAR training. In December 2007, we established industry segment advisory councils. Two councils were established for the collision repair side of the industry, and one council was established for the insurance industry. The councils were created as a standing group that represented a broad spectrum of those respective industry segments. Then in January, February and March 2008, we met at regional meetings with I-CAR instructors and volunteers. We got feedback from them about our products and services, the customer experience and what wasn’t working. That summer, at the I-CAR annual meeting, we hosted a half-day industry feedback session. It was all about gathering input on what was and wasn’t working.

So what wasn’t working with I-CAR programming?

We heard about four critical issues that we had to improve:
1. The training needs to be relevant.
2. The training needs to be focused on developing competencies that one needs to fulfill their role.
3. The training needs to be structured so that there’s a logical progression of courses that enables collision professionals to continue to build their knowledge. Course material and training activities need to be organized so that they build on each other, creating a progression of knowledge.
4. Redundancies in course content have to be eliminated.

Clearly then, I-CAR’s old training model wasn’t living up to that.

The course design model adopted by I-CAR was that each course needed to stand on its own, so that whether someone is in their second week, second year, or their 22nd year in the industry, they can come to a course and get something out of it. If you’re going to build to “one size fits all” in education, it’s not going to be a good fit for anybody. You end up with people sitting in courses where the information is so basic and they’re so far beyond it that it’s a waste of their time.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got someone who is new to the industry and they’re able to grasp some of the basic, fundamental concepts, but the rest of it goes over their head because they lack experience. We came to understand that the “one size fits all” model needed to be retired. We also realized that our basic four-hour structure for live training didn’t fit every situation. In some instances, there just isn’t that much content, and the course can be delivered in three hours. We were just stretching it out, and we need to move past that.

I-CAR got an earful about its weaknesses. How has the organization put that feedback into action?

That four-pronged set of feedback provided the design criteria that we needed to re-engineer the I-CAR curriculum. Now, we’re moving to a curriculum where the training experience is role-specific and focused on specific competencies needed for success.

Our content is being re-engineered to eliminate redundancy and to bring awareness to the trainings already available in the industry. Major providers of goods and services to the industry who also provide training to their customer base typically are members of the I-CAR training alliance. We want to account for that as we organize the I-CAR professional development program.

What was painfully obvious from our eroding performance was the absolute need to re-engage with the industry to ensure that we were providing products and services that created value. Over the last two-and-a-half years, the industry has allowed us to facilitate a series of conversations about training, training support and services that I-CAR needs to be prepared to deliver so that we can live up to the expectations that the industry has for us.

What’s the basic set-up for the new training model?

On July 21, we launched a curriculum that addresses six roles in the collision repair segment, and one role in the insurance segment. The six roles in the repair segment, around which we will have specific curriculum for each one, include:

• Refinishing technician,
• Steel-structural technician,
• Aluminum-structural technician,
• Non-structural technician,
• Electrical-mechanical technician, and
• Estimator.

We have three training levels. Individuals begin at Level 1, and progress through Level 3 training for their role within the industry. This enables us to really ensure that we’re not teaching over somebody’s head.

The structuring of the courses themselves align with the role and level that an individual is in, and the knowledge and competencies they need to have to be successful in that role. We articulate the courses that are available from I-CAR and from industry training alliance companies that are designed to create those competencies.

How do I-CAR’s Platinum and Gold Class recognition programs factor in to the new training plans?

Platinum recognizes a specific level of training achievement for individuals. Gold Class Professionals is an industry-known designation that represents achieving a level of training activity.

The industry was pretty clear that Platinum doesn’t mean anything. The designation itself doesn’t speak to the role or level that an individual is in, nor does it indicate that the training they’ve taken is consistent with that role and level. You could be an aluminum-structural technician, and simply by virtue of taking estimating, refinishing and non-structural courses, you could be a Platinum individual under the old model. But it had nothing to do with whether the training had any bearing on your job.

We’ve received very strong guidance that Platinum needs to mean something. And it needs to be recognized by the industry as someone having the knowledge and competencies to perform in a specific role at a specific level.

Going forward, a Platinum individual will be one who has completed the requirements for Level 1, 2 and 3 training, specific to their role in the industry.

Gold Class builds on Platinum. The industry position is that Gold Class needs to mean something more than just “random acts of training.” An I-CAR Gold Class shop should have people with advanced knowledge and competencies specific to the shop’s business activities.

What will shops need to do to update their Gold Class standing?

It means that a shop needs to have a minimum of one Platinum individual as an estimator, non-structural technician, structural technician and refinish technician. In shops that have just three or four technicians, it’s not unrealistic to have your non-structural technician also be your structural technician.

Describe the transition to the new model.

We’ve ended up with a four-phased transition period. It began with the launch July 21, 2010. The transition will end in December 2014. Phase 1 is the longest, from July through December 2011. Phase 2 is calendar year 2012. Phase 3 is calendar year 2013. Phase 4 is calendar year 2014.

How is past training accounted for during this transition?

We’re delivering some online tools that can be launched from the I-CAR website that support the management and administration of this. An individual can go into their “My I-CAR” site and understand, based on the training they have already taken, where they stand relative to Level 1, 2 and 3 requirements. They can identify the courses they need to complete the requirements, and begin to work into the curriculum as it’s been redesigned.

Similarly, Gold Class businesses will be able to understand their business profile relative to the Level 1, 2 and 3 requirements, and to begin to lay out a training path for their employees.

Talk about the fate of I-CAR’s online training offerings.

I-CAR will be introducing a couple of new online courses. We’re targeting January 2011 for a much more significant online offering. One thing we have heard directly from the industry is “don’t make me send people 50 miles to take a course that could be equally or better presented as an online training offering. Be mindful of our expenses and demands for efficiency, particularly in this economy.” We know that we have a significant opportunity to deliver much more of our current and future content as online offerings. We’re laying the groundwork for that and are upgrading our technical capability to be able to deliver that.

As these new courses emerge, how will the old courses change?

There will be some modification of content, absolutely. And do live courses need to be restructured for online delivery? Absolutely. In some cases, we’ve got the core technical content already. And some of the visuals, photos and diagrams can still be used. But in some instances, we’ve absolutely got to refresh things. Our technical development people will be doing the redesign of the course structure in 2011.

How many courses will potentially be modified in structure or content?

It’s going to happen in phases over time. By the time the transition period is over in 2014, I believe we will have touched every course.

What does this mean for the price of I-CAR training courses?

As we move from all live courses running four hours, and we start to introduce two-hour and three-hour live courses, we’re going to need to address the pricing around that. There might be some potential for bundling pricing by level. When we see how the industry is working through the transition, we’ll have a clearer idea of the opportunities we have relative to modifying our existing pricing structure.

The changes will continue throughout the transition period. How will you monitor the effectiveness of that?

We’re going to continue to engage with the industry throughout this process. It’s in our interest to give the industry some time to work with this structure, and then gather feedback through a larger industry forum. We’re going to continue to work with and expand our industry segment advisory councils. We’re going to work with our training alliance partners on their feedback.

In the end, what benefit do you think collision professionals will gain from this extensively redesigned training structure?

It’s my view that this will be broadly supported by all of the industry segments that comprise the inter-industry. I-CAR is living into the purpose for which it was created 30 years ago—that the industry has access, on an ongoing basis, to the type of training and the quality of training that it needs to be successful in a changing collision repair environment. That rate of change is going to accelerate, so we need to stay on top of new product development.

We made great strides in 2009 and 2010 in terms of timely, relevant content. I see that continuing at the same time that we’re redesigning some of the core curriculum. I believe we are much better equipped to do that based on this model and the way that the industry has encouraged us to structure it than we were in the past.

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