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Identifying Future Technicians

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Jeff Shaffer calls his shop, Pfeiffer Collision, the unofficial training center for technicians in Grand Rapids, Mich.

He makes a good case for the title: From the Kent Career Technical Center classroom to an apprenticeship to a full-time job in an area collision shop, Shaffer is at many students’ sides as they transition into their professions. He has gone on to employ several students himself, and doesn’t even mind when they land jobs at other area body shops.

“Sometimes you need to lose them. They just fit better somewhere else,” he says. “But you know what? They wouldn’t have even had that opportunity without us. That’s how we’re making a difference in this industry.”

Shaffer, who was nominated for a FenderBender Award based on his work with area students, performs state-mandated evaluations at Kent that are designed to assess aspiring technicians’ body repair skills. The Pfeiffer Collision owner walks through the evaluation process, how he identifies which students are primed for success and how he gives them the confidence to advance in the industry.

I get to actually come in and talk with all the students and evaluate them. I watch what they’re doing throughout the day and test them. We have a checklist of everything they need to cover on a repair and a section for notes.

I don’t check the list items off as I’m watching them. They get awful nervous if you’re just checking off and saying, “They do know this; they don’t know this.” I can’t let a test be a judge of what they know.

I like to just watch them work on a vehicle and start questioning them: “What sandpapers do you have to use here?” And, “Why do you have to use them?” And let them explain in their own words what they’ve learned and why they’re using it in this particular area.

That’s where you find the good kids. If they don’t have any idea what the grit is, if they don’t know how to feather it, they’ve got a long way to go. You know it’ll be an uphill battle training them in the shop.

But then there are other ones that will explain the whole process: how they’re going to feather this out, how they’re going to prime it and get it prepared, and how they will inspect the door handles. Once you find the ones that will actually explain it and are proud of it, you just know they’re in it to stay in it.

Then you need to find their interests and start asking them questions outside a basic evaluation. I’ll ask, “Do you have plans for staying in the business? Are any of your family members in the business? What do you like most about body repair?” Anything to strike up a conversation.

First of all, it helps them to not feel so nervous. But you also get to find out why they are in this trade, whether they plan to stay in it and what interests them. Sometimes you’ll find out that they just want to fix their car before prom. But then there are other ones that express a desire to make it their careers. Those students will fight for a job at your shop.

If they show a real drive to be in the business, we start them out under our detailers. We want them to understand the cleanliness of a vehicle is just as important and repairing it. They’ll stay there for a week or two.

After that we’ll get them involved in the teardown process. We want to get the kids to buy in to the entire repair process right away. We explain the importance of cycle time and processes. It might just start with inspecting a bumper and taking the clips out and passing on the vehicle to the next tech.

They seem to enjoy being hands-on. They’re getting to really work on a vehicle, and they get to see it while it’s being repaired. They go back to school and then come back the next day to reassemble it. They get a kick out of it. They feel like they’re a part of that system, and they know right then and there if the business is right for them.

FenderBender Awards Insights feature past FenderBender Award nominees. To nominate an inspiring collision repair professional, or for more information, go to

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