Getting Involved in Education

Dec. 28, 2022

A beginner's guide to what shop owners can do to identify the next generation of techs.

Having the right collision repair technicians in your shop is one of the best ways to grow. The right team members help you deliver a quality product without needing your direct supervision, freeing up your time as the owner to focus on the other things that grow your business.  

However, finding and retaining the best collision repair technicians is easier said than done these days. Global supply chain shortages, increased demand for collision repair, a shortage of trained technicians and competition affect the available talent in the market. 

One underutilized way to find top talent is by getting involved in educational programs to identify the next generation of collision repair technicians. Networking with institutions can provide a pipeline of pre-qualified professionals into a shop and allow shop owners to train team members in the style they see best for their shop.  

"Poaching from other shops creates chaos in the industry and lessens the supply of talent for shops. In the end, we're losing if we have to rely on poaching," says Hillel Shamam, a manager at CARSTAR Sun Valley in California who has also served on an educational board at Universal Technical Institute (UTI). "I've been involved with shops that invested time and resources into working with these educational training programs. Our average technician age was 30, while the industry average was 40. It takes an investment up front, but it's worth it. After three years, you're likely to have a huge return on your investment. Think about the opportunity costs—if you don't invest in training, you can't grow your shop."  

Find Future Talent  

The numbers are the numbers—according to the TechForce Foundation, 2022 was the sixth year in a row the number of collision repair techs in the United States was in decline. TechForce estimates more than 113,000 new techs will be needed by 2026. While these techs can enter the industry from everywhere, educational institutions will still be a driver of interested young people to collision repair.  

There are trade schools and institutions in your area, and even virtually, that are training talent, and you can get involved as a shop owner. Many of these are national organizations with multiple campuses, such as UTI. The first step is to research what organizations are training collision repair technicians in your area and see how you can network with those institutions.  

Get involved in events at these organizations and offer your shop as an opportunity for training technicians to come and learn through your affiliation with these institutions.  

"The advantage to shop owners is they get an opportunity to get to know prospective technicians before they actually have to hire them," says Mary Nunaley, who has 15 years of experience in higher education as an instructional designer and professor and consultant for teams of educational instructional designers at large corporations. "Leaders at trade schools are always looking for people to come in and speak to their classes. The relationships that form from these opportunities to network are incredible. The training technicians get an opportunity to see what their future professor is like in a real way. It's a worthy investment both ways. By networking with the institutions, you become better known as a shop owner to the educational community." 

Using a strategy like this will take some time to work through the kinks and determine how best to utilize these educational programs and institutions. The future and technology change rapidly, so investing time and energy into setting up this pipeline now is worth it.  

Get Involved With Community Events 

Colleges, trade schools and training-based education programs for collision repair professionals host many local events all over the country. They range from meet-and-greets to job fairs and everything in between. 

Go online and search for these events using event directory websites such as Eventbrite. Search "collision repair events" on these events sites and see which ones work for you to attend.  

Show up, and don't be shy. Talk to the leaders of the programs, training technicians and people involved in the events. You should be able to identify opportunities to get involved with institutions and educational programs that train technicians.  

Offer Opportunities For Training Future Technicians  

Apprenticeships are common in the automotive repair industry. One adjustment to create a pipeline of future talent is connecting any apprenticeship opportunities in your shop to local educational programs.  

You create a training environment for institutions while molding future technicians and getting your pick of the best future talent. Collision repair technician educational programs value their students experiencing real-world training, and you can provide that.  

An investment in an apprenticeship program is a long-term growth strategy. Spending resources now means you can get the pipeline of future technicians you need without all the added costs that can come from trying to recruit technicians right now.  

"The training options available for shop owners and their technicians are limited. I've been a shop manager for 25 years and have watched the technician levels decrease. They're great at diagnostics but aren't getting real-world experience," says Bill DeCarr, owner of Bumper to Bumper Auto Body & Collision. “Getting involved in other educational programs is a great opportunity for us to get different talent and increase our technician level. It's a nice option to find untapped talent. The techs are unavailable, and it can be expensive for smaller shops—the profit margins aren't always there." 

Assess What's Working 

While the opportunity to build a future pipeline is excellent, you want to ensure you're not wasting time and money. Once you have some involvement or set it up, you should frequently evaluate what's working and what's not.  

Maybe you can see that a possible future technician or even the educational program is not a good fit, don't be afraid to make some hard decisions that will ultimately be best for your shop.   

"One thing I would consider is to talk to the program chair of a particular program about the students—they're very open about giving feedback,” says Nunaley. “The educational programs generally already have an established vetting process. Use that in-place filter to know what makes sense for you." 

Go Beyond Local 

Maybe there aren’t educational programs in your area, or you don’t have time to volunteer while also running the shop. Another way to contribute to the future of the industry is to work with programs like TechForce, which accepts one-time and recurring donations to fund educational opportunities for prospective automotive technicians. Working with nonprofits not only funds the future of collision repair but can also lead to more opportunities to get connected with techs and start your pipeline.  

Finding the next generation of talent through involvement with educational training programs and institutions is a great way to mold technicians in the best way for your shop. You can find talented people who just need more experience to become career technicians. It’s worth at least taking a look to see what the future of your shop might look like. 

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