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A New Paint-Prep Training Program

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An innovative program from a tiny Illinois college promises to give low-cost, highly effective, hands-on training to newly hired refinish techs across the nation—while also tailoring the process to participant shops’ specific paint-prep circumstances.

Developed by Carl Sandburg College autobody instructor Mike Crandell, the part-online, part-in-shop program, called “In the Shop Training Paint Prep” (ITST Paint Prep), is designed to both screen an inexperienced new hire’s aptitude and streamline the training process to get results as soon as possible, Crandell explains.

Both are profit-driving important in a keenly competitive industry where new hires often start their careers as paint preppers and where there is a nationwide shortage of reliable talent, Crandell notes.

The program, he adds, will allow a new hire to be fully ready to handle the job—typically in five to 10 days—for a flat fee of just $200 or $250, depending on whether a participant shop is located in Illinois or another state.

“If you find somebody to hire and they can pass this class, you will know that they have the ability to do the job,” declares Crandell, who owned a body shop for 17 years and has taught autobody skills for 16 years, while writing two books and a technical manual on the subject.
“You can do this in your shop at any time, and nobody has to go anywhere. Frankly, I have to admit that I was a little surprised that nobody else out there has ever thought of this. But I’ve been researching and developing this for the last four years, and, sure enough, nobody has.”

The Program's Fendamentals

Here are the basics of Crandell’s ITST Paint Prep training program, which participating shop owners and managers launch from the program’s Web site at

The first step, of course, is to identify an inexperienced new refinish tech whom you’ve hired or would like to hire to work in your shop. The shop then also identifies an experienced tech who’s already at the shop to pair with the new hire during the ITST Paint Prep process.
At that point, once the shop owner or manager has registered for the program and paid the fee via the Web site, the new student eventually works online through 10 lessons on various aspects of a refinish tech’s job. Each online lesson, covering block sanding, masking, mixing, spraying and all other refinish tech fundamentals, includes videos, photos, drawings and narrative explanations to make even the online portion of the course as realistic as possible.

When each individual lesson is successfully completed, the course gets even more realistic, with the student then completing a related in-shop exercise with the experienced tech he or she has been paired with—after which the experienced tech and/or a manager decides whether the student’s abilities are up to the shop’s standards. The experienced tech will also have a “report sheet” for each lesson showing all the tasks that must be done during the in-shop exercise.

Then the student moves on to the next online lesson and related in-shop exercise until all 10 lessons have been successfully completed.
“If the student can read at the high school level or above, he or she should be able to get through two lessons in one day with no problem,” Crandell explains. “So, even if the student finishes just one lesson per day, the whole program will take two weeks, and if the student finishes two lessons per day, they can be done in a week, depending on the speed at which they can complete the lesson-related exercises in the shop with the veteran tech they’ve been paired with.”

The program also will tend to weed out those students who just don’t have the aptitude for the job, beginning with one of the first lessons on block sanding, he notes.

“Block sanding seems to be the make-or-break skill,” Crandell says. “It seems that if they can’t master that, they probably can’t master the rest of the lessons either, so, in the worst case, at least you’ll know where you stand with the student pretty quickly.”

Shop-Specific Paint Systems

Crandell is quick to note that as soon as a participating shop registers for the course, the Web site provides prompts for the specifics of the shop’s paint system, which are then automatically incorporated into each lesson and shop exercise.

“There’s a ‘Refinish Guide’ part of the Web site that asks about the specifics of things like your mixing ratios and so forth,” Crandell explains. “So this is not a general program. It’s definitely geared to how you individually do things at your shop.”

Participating shops also can complete their new hires’ ITST Paint Prep in-shop exercises at any pace that is called for.

“You can do this anytime you want,” Crandell says. “And you don’t have to go anywhere to do it, either.”

Part of Crandell’s four-year development process involved comparing his course with refinish-tech training programs already being offered by paint manufacturers and others.

“But their enrollment is low, and they kind of throw information at you constantly for a few days—and the students tend not to retain a lot of it,” Crandell says. “Our program, on the other hand, is geared toward the ways that students learn best, and that’s by doing everything hands-on step-by-step in the shop as a complement to the online lessons.”

Asked about the bottom-line benefits to participating shops, Crandell added: “Usually, it’s ‘work with this guy; he’ll show you what to do;’ but now you’ve sort of limited both the student and the trained tech he or she is paired with. This lays it all out in an organized sequence, so you can control the training process better. And, at the same time, you still get that specific hands-on, in-shop training that you really need to have.”

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