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Encouraging Students to Enter Collision Repair

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By 2028, Statista.com, a platform that consolidates various statistics, indicates that slightly more than 20 million students will be enrolled in either a public or private college program. 

And it’s no secret that, currently, collision repair shops are attempting to tap into that vast pool of students and educate them on the merits of attending a trade school or entering a trade industry.

A recent survey conducted by the Collision Industry Conference’s Talent Pool Committee found that the majority of students these days don’t plan to attend a 4-year college. The survey pooled 275 high school, college and technical school students between the ages of 15-45 who attended a CREF career fair during the 2018–19 school year. 

High school students who responded to that survey largely illustrated a trend that goes against the belief that students are predominantly opting for four-year colleges instead of technical or community colleges.  

The survey found that the top reason for choosing their current school program was a love of working on cars, followed by "opportunities for career advancement after employment." However, "the number of job openings" and both entry-level and top technician pay were toward the bottom of the list.

In light of the trend, FenderBender sought insight and suggestions from Dave Luehr, owner of Elite Body Shop Solutions LLC and chair of the Talent Pool, Recruitment and Development Tool committee for the Collision Industry Conference (CIC).

How can shop owners get in front of these students and bridge the information gap?

This is really what we’re trying to do with the Talent Pool committee. We’re trying to create awareness in the industry and have shops take personal responsibility to realize we need to make some fundamental changes to build our repair businesses.

Businesses need to attract these people that are potentially coming into our industry. The biggest reason people are attracted to the industry is because they like working on cars. My feeling is that people are going to want to work on cars but also make a decent living. 

Some items not reflected in the survey are why people are attracted to jobs. They want to make money, they want to work on cars, but they also want to go to work for some place that has a bit of a career path. One of the things that’s a little surprising from the survey results is that people in the industry think these young adults expect to come out and make $100,000 right off the bat, but that’s just not the case. The majority are expecting to make $50,000 or less, which is still a significant amount of money. Another thing that’s way up there is work-life balance. 

How can shop owners offer a work-life balance for their employees?

Money is not the key driver or motivator for young people. Money is a motivator to allow them to have a good work-life balance. Some young people are more motivated by money than others, however, I believe that for most people money is a means to experiencing a more meaningful life often outside of work.

One of the things the talent pool committee is working on right now is a research paper. It’s going to spell out exactly what shops need to do to take advantage of these programs. It’s going to talk about apprenticeship programs, talk about the importance of setting up a clear career path. When a young person comes into the industry, they may be okay not making $50,000 a year, but we as shop owners need to let them know the specific steps it will take to get them to $50,000 or higher. 

We’re creating a white paper as a committee to help shops create an apprenticeship program in their shop and mentor young people. 

What are your thoughts on the amount of students interested in entering the industry, according to the survey?

The millennial generation has now eclipsed baby boomers as the largest generation on the planet.  It is time that we understand these young people are our only option for an effective workforce. Whether shops like it or not, we have massive amounts of young people coming into our business. 

What we’re discovering is that there’s not a talent shortage. That’s not the problem. The problem is having an attractive industry for these workers to come into. It’s up to us to make an attractive industry and make it available to these workers that do exist. 

We’re seeing there are people willing to work with their hands. Our industry is in competition with other trades and we’re not prepared or organized  as an industry to get our fair share of people willing to work with their hands. There are other industries like HVAC, plumbers, even diesel mechanics. Those industries are more prepared and willing to go to where the students are and talk to them and bring them into their industry. 

Independent collision repairers need to start choosing to show up for events like career fairs. They’re happening and they happen more than once a year.

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