I-CAR’s Overhauled Certification Program
Before I-CAR rolled out its Professional Development Program last summer, the organization’s reputation had taken a bit of a beating. Industry professionals complained that the former certifications didn’t mean anything. Now, the overhauled certification program has become a fundamental building block that has strengthened the value of I-CAR training, says John Van Alstyne, president and CEO of the organization. I-CAR is in the midst of a four-year transition into the program, and there is still some work to be done to fully explain and implement the new training format.
FenderBender sat down with Van Alstyne to discuss the most recent I-CAR developments and the tools available to help repairers make the transition.
You came on as president and CEO of I-CAR during a huge transitional period for the organization. What have you been doing to get up to speed?
I’ve been traveling quite a bit to get a sense of I-CAR’s current position in the industry. I’ve traveled coast to coast and everywhere in between to attend events and visit with I-CAR customers: repair shops, insurers and OEMs.
I’m trying to visit with I-CAR’s important stakeholders. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting with a cross-section of the industry because every segment has different interests, needs and perspectives regarding what they want to see from I-CAR as we move forward.
The I-CAR Professional Development Program was a highly important initiative that the industry wanted. What else have you heard the industry request?
I’ve got quite the laundry list of ideas that could be used to improve I-CAR’s offerings to the industry. Most notably, industry members are interested in training and education that is relevant to their business.
Shop owners in particular want training that improves the competency of their organization in a way where they can see I-CAR’s direct benefit to their operation. Overall, shop owners want to see some return on the training investment they make with I-CAR.
All of the feedback that I’ve received has been very beneficial to hear firsthand from members of the industry.
The Professional Development Program already addresses those concerns in some ways, right?
I-CAR hasn’t been deaf to the voices of its customers. Clearly, the I-CAR Professional Development Program is a direct answer to a lot of the feedback I’ve been given.
The Professional Development Program has strengthened the I-CAR organization, but there are still refinements that need to be made. We need to have better awareness throughout the industry as to what the Professional Development Program is, what the benefits are and why it’s important to shops.
People have also said they want I-CAR to be easier and more convenient to work with. So in response to that, I-CAR has rolled out some additional services that go along with the curriculum of the I-CAR Professional Development Program.
How do these new services complement the Professional Development Program?
We have heard an increasing interest in online training options from people across every segment of the collision repair industry. In response to those demands, we launched 11 new online courses that complement the I-CAR Professional Development Program curriculum.
Those new offerings will make it easier for people to do coursework sitting at their desk at home or in their office. Some of those are online versions of our live courses, and some of them are only available online.
In an industry like collision repair, professionals need hands-on training. How will online courses address that?
It’s not like we’re moving everything online. Our hands-on, instructor-led courses will always exist. In fact, we actually have six new live courses that we’re making available, too.
But over time, there will be a natural segmentation of our training. The more value-added, hands-on type of training will continue to be offered as live courses. And the more basic, elementary type of training will be offered online.
What else is I-CAR doing to help the industry accept the Professional Development Program?
We launched equivalency testing. Now there is an opportunity for technicians to test out of certain training courses so they don’t have to spend time and money on training that they already understand
That’s important because shops may have employees who already have significant past experience.
If passed, the test will give technicians I-CAR credit for the competencies required within the I-CAR Professional Development Program. There is a nominal charge for technicians to take those tests.
Some people are still quite confused about what training they need to take within the Professional Development Program. What has I-CAR done to tackle that problem?
We have a whole suite of tools that can be found on the I-CAR website, i-car.com.
We have designed a lot of services and tools to make it easier for students and shops to engage with and plan for the I-CAR Professional Development Program.
My I-CAR is one example. That’s an online portal that hosts the student’s training record, personal information and where a student can go to declare their role within a particular shop.
Once a role is declared, students can easily understand what their training path should be. That gives students a clear view of what classes need to be taken. I-CAR’s customer care group is even able to reach out to students and help them get scheduled into the necessary classes.
A manager or owner can access a Training Manager report for any employee in their shop, regardless of whether the employee has declared a role. Additionally, shop operators can access Training Manager if only one person has a declared role.
Those capabilities allow shop managers to get an organizational view as to what their shop’s training requirements include within the I-CAR Professional Development Program. They also helps them identify which of their technicians need to fulfill certain training requirements.
I-CAR has a series of reports that can be provided to shops so they can track their training progress. The process helps I-CAR get a handle on which courses need to be offered in certain geographic locations throughout the country.
It also helps the organization figure out which segments of the industry are in need of certain training courses.
Once people start to become more familiar with the Professional Development Program, will I-CAR make further changes to the program?
The industry has asked us to develop an educational path for managers and supervisors within the collision repair segment. That role will deal with the competencies that the industry perceives managers and supervisors need to perform their jobs effectively.
We have created a training curriculum that supports developing those competencies in a phased approach. That new role will be launched within the first quarter of 2012.
There is the potential that even more roles could be launched within the I-CAR Professional Development Program that I-CAR does not specifically address yet.
What exactly do you mean by that?
We run a program called the I-CAR Industry Training Alliance. The program brings training into I-CAR that I-CAR itself does not deliver—training which companies such as DuPont, Akzo Nobel and Chief Automotive offer, for example.
There is the potential that a competency could be specified through training that is available through the I-CAR Industry Training Alliance Partners. We are able to grant I-CAR credit for those training avenues, which could be applicable to any new roles that are developed under the I-CAR Professional Development Program.
I-CAR provides a lot of curriculum to collision repair programs in schools. How has the Professional Development Program affected the way I-CAR works with those schools?
The curriculum and services we provide to the educational segment of our stakeholder group is becoming a focus for I-CAR. We’re refreshing the training curriculum we provide to schools in order to better align with the I-CAR Professional Development Program.
We will be speaking with the educational community and the collision repair industry to understand the needs of each segment. We’re hoping to dovetail those needs together as we redesign the services we offer to schools.
This will help I-CAR provide the educational foundation that members of the industry want to see from graduates of secondary and post-secondary schools. The goal is to simply get more qualified and employable technicians graduating from those schools.
We’re also looking to provide some services and tools that will help schools attract students to collision repair programs. It’s all about enhancing our service offerings that we provide to educational institutions to ultimately get a high quality workforce into the collision repair industry.
This strategy will be rolled out incrementally over the next couple of years. It’s available to the entire educational world. Any schools that have interest are able to get involved.
You have extensive experience in the automotive industry, but very little of it is in the collision repair segment. How will your background in the industry improve the strength of the I-CAR organization moving forward?
I understand the space of the automotive aftermarket, and I know how cars go together—I’ve actually seen them assembled on the assembly lines.
What I bring to I-CAR is leadership experience. I have general management experience in which I’ve done a lot of work on corporate and customer strategies. I also have a degree in sales and marketing.
That’s important to I-CAR because we have a lot of work to do on that side of the equation. We need to do a better job of reaching out to our stakeholders and to communicate more clearly with them. That will help us incorporate their needs into the services that I-CAR offers.
I-CAR has partnerships with auto manufacturers. You have an extensive background in the OEM segment of the industry. How will your OEM relationships benefit I-CAR?
I obviously know a lot of people throughout the various automotive OEM companies. I have an understanding of new technologies that are in play right now. Most recently, I worked with an electric vehicle OEM. So I understand those technologies very well. I also understand vehicle light weighting and the impact that has on vehicle structure and design.
What’s most important is that I understand all of the different groups that operate within OEM companies that I-CAR needs to communicate and collaborate with. There are technical groups, parts and service organizations, and training organizations. We need to work effectively and have a lot of interaction with those groups to maximize the transfer of information in order to best support their needs.
What is the biggest hurdle you see that I-CAR needs to overcome in the near future?
As you think about running an effective shop—and look at the mission of completing proper and safe repairs—it all boils down to having the right processes, people and knowledge in your facility.
The problem is that I-CAR is not educating every member of the industry today. I-CAR has a lot of work to do to improve its reach to include more of the industry in the training that the organization offers.