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Becoming a part of the Industry’s Education Future

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Bob Noaker, owner of Noaker’s Auto Body in Duncannon, Pa., rarely hires technicians right out of school. That’s because he doesn’t trust the quality of training students receive in school collision repair programs.

“Many students graduate from schools thinking they’re immediately ready for a job in the shop,” Noaker says. “But they’re not because the training they received at the school was inadequate.”

Noaker once hired a technician fresh out of a vocational school. But the technician didn’t even know how to use a spot welder. In fact, the first time he had ever seen one was the day he stepped into Noaker’s shop.

Some schools are 15 years behind with repair processes and technology that students get exposed to, Noaker says. Schools need help from industry professionals to understand what types of training students should receive to be ready to work in the industry.

Noaker wanted to do his part. He volunteered to join the Collision Repair Advisory Committee at Pennsylvania College of Technology (PCT) in 2008.

As a member of the advisory committee, Noaker mentors collision repair students, offers suggestions to improve course curriculum and gives advice on tooling and equipment purchases.

Schools need this input from professional shop owners to create solid programs, Noaker says. That’s the only way they will be able to churn out technicians with employable skills.

“Schools don’t always know what’s going on in the industry. We’re the school’s eyes as far as what’s happening in the real world.”
— Dave Swartzlander, shop owner and advisory board member at
Pennsylvania College of Technology

“I want to help improve the curriculum students are learning so they are qualified to obtain an entry-level position in the industry once they graduate,” Noaker says.

Joining a school’s collision repair advisory committee is one way shop owners can help create a better future for the industry. It doesn’t require a lot of your time, and you might be able to acquire ideas to improve operations or technology at your shop as well.

Need for Technicians

A projected shortage of skilled technicians weighs on many shop owners’ minds. The average age of shop technicians is increasing, and owners are concerned about what their business will look like 15 years from now.

“Educated technicians will be desperately needed in the near future,” Noaker says. “More students graduating from quality automotive institutions will lead to better quality technicians in the industry.”

The problem is that schools have trouble updating course curriculum as fast as the collision repair industry is changing. It doesn’t take long before a school’s course curriculum is out of date.

“Schools don’t always know what’s going on in the industry,” says Dave Swartzlander, owner of Mifflinburg, Pa.–based CPR Auto Center and member of the advisory committee at PCT. “We’re the school’s eyes as far as what’s happening in the real world.”

Scott Kruger, executive director of the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), says connectivity between schools and shop owners is vital. Schools want to give skills to students that will make them employable in today’s market. And the only way that will happen is if industry professionals offer guidance to school instructors.

Students enrolled in collision programs today will soon become the industry’s workforce, Swartzlander says. “Shop owners need to understand what kinds of programs and training their future technicians have gone through.”

Getting Involved

There’s no doubt that shop owners are busy people. Understandably, you might feel hesitant to give up another chunk of your time to take on one more responsibility. But school advisory committees don’t require a huge amount of your time.

Noaker says the advisory committee at PCT only meets twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. Each meeting lasts about three hours. Noaker’s involvement only requires about 10 hours of his time each year.

Members of a school’s advisory committee are typically asked to:

• Give input on curriculum. Advisory committees offer suggestions about how the school can add more value to courses taught.

Shop owners can also let school instructors know what types of technicians are most in demand in the industry. The school can adjust its program to meet those market demands, Kruger says.

• Give input on tooling. Advisory committees offer suggestions for tooling upgrades the school should make, like frame equipment, spray booths and paint materials, Swartzlander says.

• Mentor the students. PCT implemented an online chat system. Students can ask questions and have discussions with advisory board members through an online forum.

• Give special presentations. School instructors sometimes hold class sessions on specialized repair processes, Kruger says. Members of the advisory committee might be asked to be a guest speaker on a particular topic.

Contact schools in your area to find out what opportunities are out there. Most schools are more than willing to get additional industry professionals involved with their program, Kruger says.

Contact the CREF if you don’t know what schools near you have a collision repair program. The CREF maintains a database of every collision repair program in the country. The organization can also help connect you with a school, Kruger says. Contact information for the CREF can be found on the organization’s website: collisioneducationfoundation.org.

Benefit for Business

Involvement with a school’s collision program might even help you out, too. Swartzlander says he has gained a lot of technical knowledge from PCT because resources that are available to the school are also made available to him.

The school has relationships with foreign companies that give insight and information on new products, Swartzlander says. He doesn’t have those relationships, so he’s not privy to the same information the schools are.

In fact, Swartzlander just caught wind of an interesting new product during his last meeting at PCT. A German company developed a paint mixing station that extracts vapors from the mixing area more efficiently.

Noaker has received some helpful information from PCT, too. He wanted to purchase a new frame machine for his shop. He was choosing between two brands, but wanted to see them side by side. It turned out that PCT had both of those machines in the school’s shop. The school provided Noaker with all the information he needed to make the decision.

Noaker also recently switched to waterborne paint. He says the school had a lot of useful information that he didn’t know about.

“That sharing of information is highly beneficial,” Noaker says.

Hiring Potential

Shop owners like Noaker are wary of hiring recent graduates because they can’t be sure how well the students are trained. That can change when you’re directly involved with a school’s program.

Not only do you have the ability to influence curriculum, but you will also know firsthand how well the students are being trained. That might give you the confidence you need to hire recent graduates.

“You will know what base knowledge you’re going to get out of an entry-level employee,” Kruger says.

Getting involved with school training programs will also make those young technicians more likely to apply for positions at your shop.

“Graduates tend to apply for jobs at shops they’re familiar with,” Kruger says. “Students get to know advisory committee members very well, which will give you more success hiring those individuals when they’re looking for jobs.”

“Advertising the fact that you’re taking care of local schools can definitely make a positive impact on customers.”
— Scott Kruger, executive director, Collision Repair Education Foundation

The more involved shop owners are with these programs, the better it will be for their business, Kruger adds. “You’re able to acquire the best and brightest students that come out of a particular school to work at your shop.”

Community Image

It’s no secret that community involvement can benefit your business. Many shop owners have improved their company image by donating to charities and sponsoring local organizations.

If you’re willing to do a little research on your local training facilities and institutions, involvement with school programs can have the same effect.

Community members are drawn to organizations that give back to their local area, Kruger says. Consumers take notice when businesses reinvest in their community. “Advertising the fact that you’re taking care of local schools can definitely make a positive impact on customers.”

Shop owners should see involvement with school collision repair programs as an investment in their business, their industry and their community, Kruger says. And that benefits everybody.

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