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Building a Better Collision Repair Industry

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It was the emotional climax of the Collision Repair Education Foundation’s gathering at last fall’s SEMA Show when the organization awarded grants to several educators, including the two recipients of its annual $50,000 Makeover awards.

Thomas A. Edison Career & Technical Education High School in Jamaica, New York, was one of the night’s big winners. The school was represented by collision and refinishing instructor, Barry “Roop” Roopnarine, who has been teaching there for 12 years. Roopnarine also happens to be a graduate of the school’s class of 1996. 

With much-needed donations that will dramatically transform his program in the coming year, Roopnarine is optimistic about the future of his classes, and the increasing industry support that is ensuring opportunities for collision repair students in the years to come. 

I can really say that I look forward to coming to work. This is something I tell my classes about—what do you consider to be successful? I’m not making six figures, but I love what I do and look forward to coming to work, as opposed to getting a job that will pay more, but waking up in the morning and saying, ugh, I have to go to that place again.

On a typical day, I get here anywhere from 5:45 to 6 a.m. I hate being late, so I get here early, set up my day, and get some props set up for the class, print some handouts and do paperwork. 

We recently had two former students stop by to spend some time with the kids. They painted in our booth and hung out for a while. When kids come back and you can see that they valued what you did for them—it’s a great feeling. 

I tell my students to treat this class like a job. Class starts at 7:10, and you need to be here on time. If you’re constantly late or absent at a job, you will get terminated.

LKQ recently donated a lot of parts, so the kids have been scuffing them down, cleaning, painting, and then coming in after the paint dries to examine their work. We use a marker to highlight any problems, then they have to give a quick presentation on what caused those problems and how they’re going to prevent them from happening again. 

For me, it’s more than just doing my classes and then leaving. I stay late to prepare for the next day and work with kids who want to come back and work in the shop after the day’s classes. 

There are many days where I’ll look up and see that it’s 5:30. It’s not a matter of watching the clock if the kids are here and putting their time in after their day is finished. They’re showing me they’re interested in what’s happening, and that they really want to hone their skills and become better. 

We work with a few shops in the area to help my students find internships. Because we’re teaching such an advanced curriculum, working with shops and creating internship possibilities is one of the areas that I need to strengthen. I’ve actually had a couple of students get hired directly out of our program. 

HANDS-ON APPROACH: Barry Roopnarine worked diligently to build a program that teaches students about the proper processes and theories of collision repair, as well as the required skills to be successful in the industry. Photo by Kent Meister

We teach the I-CAR curriculum, so they’re learning the right way to do repairs the first time. Shops should be knocking on our doors asking, “Do you have any kids that would like an internship?”

They could really work with these students and help them become great technicians. With older technicians who have been doing this for 20 years, sometimes they have bad habits and feel that training is a waste of time. I’ve been in classes where some guys say they’re only there because their shop sent them. 

You can’t teach guys with an old mindset the new technologies in our industry. My students have the understanding, the background and theory as to what takes place in a collision, how the car should be properly repaired, and all the tools and procedures they need to get the job done. 

I would like shop owners to contact us and offer their time to stop by and watch the kids work. They could walk around our shop, see what the kids are doing, ask them why they are doing something a certain way to test their understanding. Our kids aren’t just standing around sanding a panel to look busy. They actually understand the process that goes into preparing the car properly. 

Shops could also offer students opportunities for job shadowing. That provides the chance to watch their abilities, their attendance, their attitude and whether they ask the right questions. 

At the end of our three-year program, they could then decide to give them the opportunity to be hired, because they would already be familiar with the shop. By that time, shops would have a clear idea about their job ethics, and would feel more comfortable offering that student a job. 

One of our biggest supporters is my jobber, Ray Baxter, of American Auto Body Supplies in Flushing. He’s phenomenal, and gets manufacturer reps to come in here and work directly in hands-on programs with our students. 

He’ll come down to the school to see how he can help out, and has done mock interviews with kids and motivational speeches about the industry. He has also set us up with training through PPF, so I am able to take a group of kids out there and do some painting. 

Ray truly does more than you’d expect from how much we order from him. He goes so far above and beyond that it’s amazing. He’s always looking for the best possible way to help us out. 

Running a collision program is very expensive. Everything costs money, and most of the materials are consumables, so they’re always getting used up. We have a lot of kids— 26, 25 and 18 in my three classes—so we need sufficient materials in order for them all to practice.

That’s why the Collision Repair Education Foundation is so important to us. They reach out to the manufacturers and ensure that schools are getting the stuff they need that will really help us. They are doing a fantastic job of getting more support from the industry. 

We weren’t awarded cash, but grants that fulfill the itemized list of tools, equipment and supplies that we put together ahead of time. It lessens the strain on our budgets, and allows us to give the students more options. 

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