Benefits of WIN’s Mentoring Program
Kristen Felder understands the challenges of working in a male-dominated field. As a former auto body technician and painter, the founder of the automotive networking site Collision Hub endured some difficult moments on her way to thriving in the collision repair industry. Wanting to help other young women become more engaged in the industry and to feel supported along the way, she turned to the Women’s Industry Network (WIN) mentoring program.
“Mentoring students is one of the greatest things WIN does,” Felder says. The program provides a host of valuable resources to young women: scholarships, networking opportunities and advice on topics such as perfecting a paint job, balancing work and family life, best business practices and more. These resources help young women become skilled technicians, painters and estimators as well as strong business leaders.
Along with helping to develop well-qualified, talented professionals, the WIN mentoring program offers another benefit too: The established collision repair professionals who dedicate their time to mentoring often enjoy the unexpected rewards of valuable connections, business inspiration and that intangible asset of giving back for the good of the industry.
At its core, the WIN mentoring program helps women connect with other women. In a male-dominated field, this support is critical. “Women are different than men,” says Kim White, WIN chair and district sales manager for FinishMaster Inc., based in Indianapolis. “We communicate differently, respond differently and interpret data differently. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone who sees the world more like you do.” Having access to advice from other women in the industry encourages the young women who are interested in the industry to stick with it.
WIN’s intent is to help women excel. “If they’re better at their job, they want to stay in the industry because they feel comfortable in it, and then they’ll help attract other women to the industry,” White says. “If we highlight and showcase women doing great things, hopefully, they will provide encouragement to other women that they, too, can be successful.”
Making a Difference
In 2008, Felder met Rachel Fonseca at NACE. At the time, Fonseca was studying collision repair at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School in New Bedford, Mass. The two women formed a connection while at the convention, and Felder began working with Fonseca this past summer.
“I have always had great support from my instructors, but there were just some moments when I needed another woman’s perspective,” Fonseca says. “Kristen [Felder] really understood where I was coming from at this point in my career and was always there with words of advice when I had a question.”
The two women maintain their relationship through email, phone, text messages and Facebook, Fonseca says. The two also stay in touch via Collision Hub. Lately, Felder has been helping Fonseca with her job search. While Fonseca is pursuing a business degree at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth (she decided a business degree could better help her run her own shop, or help her secure an upper management level position at a company in the industry), she’s looking for a position that would enable her to finish her degree while working.
In a rough job market, Felder has been encouraging Fonseca to keep her spirits up. “[I tell her] it may not be your dream job, but could you be a paint rep at a paint company instead of a painter? Or an estimator instead of a painter?” she says. “She’s great with fabrication, and she’s good with paint. We have to try to find a way to mix those skills for her.”
Now, Fonseca is teaching collision repair courses at New Bedford Regional Technical High School and misses being more hands-on with repairs. “I was finding it difficult to be away from the shop and away from working with my hands,” Fonseca says. “Kristen explained to me that the ‘shop itch’ will never go away and how I can balance getting my hands dirty while focusing on my school work.”
Though Felder primarily works with Fonseca, all of the WIN women are available to serve as mentors, too. “I don’t think Rachel has one mentor; she’s got about 12!” Felder laughs. “Jeannie [Silver, co-owner of CARSTAR Mundelein] can talk to her about family issues. I’m a car junkie, so she’ll talk to me about paint and tech stuff. And Kim [White] is a great business mind, so she’s probably asking her questions about business. We’re one great big toolbox for her.”
For Fonseca, the support she’s received has been invaluable as she’s prepared to enter the job market and further her education. “It’s reassuring to know WIN and Kristen [Felder] are there to help me network and establish my career,” she says. “Having women who understand what I am doing and are there to answer any questions I may have is a huge help, and I couldn’t be more thankful for all they have done. [This experience] has opened many doors for me. They have been a vital part in industry networking and have taught me a lot about the way the industry works.”
Making Mentoring Work for You
Becoming a mentor can be the best thing you’ve done as a business owner. Young workers, fresh from school and training programs, are well-versed in the newest business practices, know their way around the latest shop equipment, and are computer-savvy.
Indeed, being a mentor has inspired Felder to change and improve things in her own life. “Rachel gets me fired up, and that drives a lot of innovation,” she says. “She’s a driving force for a lot of what I’ve done with my business.”
There are other business-related benefits to becoming a mentor. According to the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education Mentoring Program, the researched benefits of helping young professionals develop their skills include:
• Opportunities to improve your communication skills and to expand your base of industry knowledge;
• Amplified leadership, teaching and coaching ability as you take more mindful note of the skills and lessons you are sharing;
• A greater sense of collegiality with other industry professionals; and
• Greater professionalism and commitment to personal and career development for yourself and others.
Felder says Fonseca is the perfect example of an immensely talented young woman who will be a huge asset to a shop. “She’s young, bright and passionate about the industry. Let’s not lose her. When people retire, we need the ‘Rachels’ to keep this industry going.”
She hopes other shop owners and managers will begin to mentor collision repair students, whether they’re men or women. “We scream that we need more technicians, and mentoring students is one of the best ways to find good people.”