Hiring qualified techs starts with industry involvement

June 16, 2016
The schools are teaching the students what the school knows but not necessarily what the industry needs. Advisory councils provide input to the schools on curriculum requirements; their goal is to educate a student on what they must know to become employable.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, there are technicians available in most markets. While technicians are not standing at your door every day looking for a job, they are available. The next generation of automotive technicians can be found at vocational technical schools, community colleges and trade schools.

I have heard all of the pros and cons about the quality of technicians coming out of the various schools and while some are founded most are misleading. All of the concerns you have with these schools can be fixed with your involvement. If your local facility does not have an advisory council, start one.

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The schools are teaching the students what the school knows but not necessarily what the industry needs. Advisory councils provide input to the schools on curriculum requirements; their goal is to educate a student on what they must know to become employable.

Some of the other concerns circulating are created by misconceptions and expectations of what students should be able to do when they graduate. Again, your involvement with the school to develop a mutual understanding of what level of knowledge the student will have at graduation would be welcome. Remember, the schools’ intentions are to train the student to become a valuable addition to our industry.

Most trade schools and all high school level vocational schools are accredited by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). Their mission is to improve the quality of automotive technician training programs nationwide. NATEF examines the structure, resources and quality of training programs and evaluates them against standards established by the industry. These standards reflect the skills that students must master to be successful in the industry.

NATEF also works with students to increase career awareness opportunities in the automotive repair industry. You can assist with validating the schools in your area by assisting with the NATEF audit. The audit is a tool to ensure the school has the equipment, curriculum and qualified instructors needed to succeed.

Another entity that is very involved in developing technicians for the collision repair industry is the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF). Their mission is to support collision repair educational programs, schools and students to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with an array of career opportunities. They support schools through grants that provide collision programs with the new tools, equipment and supplies needed to enhance the educational experience, giving students the necessary skills and understanding of new technology.

CREF is able to accomplish this through contributions from the entire collision industry. Donors include national corporations and local businesses; from major insurance carriers to collision repair businesses, and everyone in between, that serve the collision repair industry, people like you.

I often hear that shop managers are not sure if there is an educational facility near them. The first place I would look is the local high school. Most high schools have a career counselor that can help identify a Vocational – Technical school or community college serving your market.

Another option is the National Center for Education Statistics, which has a search tool to locate schools in your area. There is also a Community College Directory available to help you find a community college in your market. Once you locate a facility, a quick search will allow you to find courses available for your future technicians.

You can also help groom students for a career in the collision repair industry through mentorship. Most states are providing programs to increase hands-on vocational learning to help high school students find a skill-set they enjoy to develop into a career. A recent education reform bill includes career and technical education in K – 12 programs nationally. To accomplish this they will need mentors to assist in the training process.

Training programs are being designed to require co-operative experience as part of the curriculum. Allowing students to mentor in your repair shop will help the student understand the industry and build a relationship with your staff. With proper mentorship you will gain the loyalty of the student and gain the ability to mold them to the worker you require.

None of my suggestions will get you a technician today. It will take two to five years to develop a technician from the high school level. These programs will get us the technicians we need, trained the way we need them, but only with your involvement. How rewarding would it be to have one of your mentored students display their achievements in a competition like SkillsUSA!

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About the Author

John Shoemaker

John Shoemaker is a business development manager for BASF North America Automotive Refinish Division and the former owner of JSE Consulting. He began his career in the automotive repair industry in 1973. He has been a technician, vehicle maintenance manager and management system analyst while serving in the U.S. Air Force. In the civilian sector he has managed several dealership collision centers, was a dealership service director and was a consultant to management system providers as an implementation specialist. John has completed I-CAR training and holds ASE certifications in estimating and repair. Connect with Shoemaker on LinkedIn.

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