Staying Involved with Industry Institutions

Nov. 1, 2011
Executive Director of the National Coalition of Certification Centers

The 2011 Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS), held last May, featured a discussion on the skill sets future automotive technicians will need to service new vehicles. Among the presenters was Roger Tadajewski, executive director of the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), an organization developed to help link the aftermarket industry with educational institutions and training programs. He says the collision industry’s future growth and productivity will be determined by the strategic partnerships it develops with providers of technical education. Most notably, the rapid changes in industry-related technologies is causing a dire need for collision professionals from all industry segments to help ensure educational institutions are providing the training that students need for successful automotive careers.

FenderBender’s Andrew Johnson talked with Tadajewski about the importance of collision professionals’ involvement with schools, and how NC3’s partnership model can help bridge the gap between industry and education.

What has spurred the need for collision industry organizations and professionals to partner with educational institutions?

There is a transition going on in the workforce right now.

The baby boomer generation, about 75 million people, will be retiring during the next five to 10 years. And there are only about 45 to 55 million young, emerging workers in the pipeline.

There is a large gap. There is a large pool of experienced automotive professionals leaving the industry, and a smaller, less experienced pool of workers that is coming in to take their place.

It’s important to ensure those people have the knowledge and skills to be successful. The collision repair industry will soon be in need of young, talented workers across every segment of the industry: technicians, estimators, parts people, insurance companies, and product and tool providers, for example. All of those entities will be in need of skilled men and women. 

That has lead to a couple of questions that need to be answered: How does the automotive industry prepare for this change over the next decade? Where will that emerging workforce obtain the proper training, experience and skills?

Those are good questions. Where will the new workforce obtain those skills?

We know that employees of collision repair businesses need more than a high school education in order to have a successful career. Most people likely need to attend a technical or community college to earn some type of certificate, credentials or associate degree in the trade.

That’s where the future workforce will come from, which collision repair organizations will use to hire their employees. Because of that, the industry needs to ensure those post-secondary schools are offering a high level of training. Schools want to be able to do that, but they don’t necessarily have all of the answers.

What changes are happening in the industry that are causing concern over the skill sets technicians have after graduation?

New technologies are playing an increased role in today’s collision repair industry.

Technicians need to understand how today’s vehicles work, how complex technologies in vehicles work and how new tooling and equipment technologies operate. The technicians of tomorrow not only need strong technical expertise, but solid academic skills as well in order to understand all of these new developments.

What specific technologies are you referring to?

Tools used in the shop are evolving. Computer-aided alignment of vehicle frames is one example. Shops don’t just use tape measures for those kinds of repairs anymore. Shops use computer technology with laser alignment components, which requires today’s technicians to have some basic understanding
of geometry.

Technicians also need to understand things like basic diagnostics, torque and precision hole drilling in metals.

In addition, vehicle safety technologies are rapidly changing. Modern vehicles have airbag sensors, back-up warning sensors, video sensors, tire pressure monitoring sensors and traction control sensors.

Those components need to be estimated, repaired and calibrated properly during the repair process. There are diagnostic tools available to help with those processes, but some workers are entering the industry without understanding how to use those tools properly—in productive and efficient manners to get jobs done correctly the first time.

What types of shop workers does this mainly affect?

These new vehicle components affect every job within a shop. Estimators need the information to write proper damage analyses, technicians need information to repair the components, and quality assurance people need information to make sure those things are working correctly before the vehicle leaves the shop.

 All of those driver safety features, which are now standard within vehicle architectures, need to be understood by all employees at a collision shop before customers can go home with complete repairs.

“Students also need to learn how to use technology away from the vehicle during the repair process.”
  —Roger Tadajewski, executive director, National Coalition of Certification Centers

Technology isn’t only used within vehicle designs and repair methods. It is also used as a tool to build more efficiencies into every day shop operations.

That’s right. Students also need to learn how to use technology away from the vehicle during the repair process. Computers are used constantly for everything shops do, like to search for repair information and communicate with customers and business partners. Collision shops today order parts online and interact with insurers through computer programs, for example. There are so many types of electronic processes and communications going on, so learning how to do that efficiently also needs to be integrated into school culture and curriculums.

Technology isn’t the only aspect of the collision industry that constantly changes. Basic products, such as paints, adhesives and other shop supplies, are regularly updated, too. Are schools aware that those things need to be updated within training offerings as well?

That’s why it’s important for the entire cross-section of the industry to partner with educational institutions. Companies like Snap-On Tools and 3M, for example, are constantly bringing new products to market. All of those new products have certain specifications on how they should be used, applied and integrated into the repair process. So we’re working with those industry-related companies to help bridge the connection with schools. It’s important to make sure that those practices and processes are being taught so the emerging workforce can use each product to the best of their ability.

So what can be done to ensure that future technicians will have all of these skills starting from their first day on the job?

Educational institutions need help implementing these things into their curriculums. It won’t happen without assistance, so schools are looking to build strong partnerships with industry professionals to help.

That’s where NC3 comes into play. The purpose of the NC3 organization is to work collaboratively—on a national scale—with educational institutions, industry professionals and companies to develop learning curriculum and implementation plans to improve the knowledge that technicians enter the workforce with. We have designed a national model for doing this, which can be implemented on local levels across the country.

 “NC3’s model highlights all of the necessary skills and trainings that future technicians need, and helps schools update their programs over a two-year period.”
  —Roger Tadajewski, executive director, National Coalition of Certification Centers

NC3’s model highlights all of the necessary skills and trainings that future technicians need, and helps schools update their programs over a two-year period. That includes everything from course curriculum to instructor teaching habits, to implementing the regular use of computers so students learn how technology is incorporated into daily operations.

From there, the model shows how schools can get local industry professionals involved with their program by having them serve on the school’s advisory committees. Those professionals, who represent all segments of the industry, can provide input and feedback on how the school can further improve its trainings to meet market demands. It’s beneficial for those industry professionals to participate because they can use that as a strategy for hiring new workers, or to update training opportunities for their existing workforce.

What kinds of feedback can industry professionals offer to schools?

It’s about strengthening the future workforce in fundamental areas. Professional can explain skill sets, academics and technical requirements surrounding the industry to help students graduate with basic, employable skills.

“Everybody has the right idea and the right passion, but everyone has a different way of doing it.”
—Roger Tadajewski, executive director, National Coalition of Certification Centers,
on the reason for developing a national model for educational partnerships

But many shop operators already serve on advisory committees for school collision repair programs. Why was it necessary to create a national model to do this?

Local markets have seen the need to develop these partnerships for the last 10 years. Educational institutions have recognized necessary upgrades and improvements to their programs, and many have reached out to local automotive professionals and companies for assistance. They spend time, money and assets getting things going.

Everybody has the right idea and the right passion, but everyone has a different way of doing it. They are all trying to “plant their own flower,” so to speak. Then they end up running into someone doing similar things in another market. They realize there are pieces of information that they could have shared with and learned from one another, which could have saved time in developing a game plan. 

NC3’s model helps automotive professionals and educational institutions build these partnerships more easily. We don’t want schools and industry professionals to have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to work together to grow and improve the emerging workforce. That’s why NC3 developed a model and strategy that can be replicated anywhere to make this happen.

Schools or industry professionals can get in touch with NC3 for help making connections in their local area.

Some techs won’t come from post-secondary schools. Don’t high school programs need a little assistance, too?

The industry not only has to partner with colleges, but high schools and middle schools as well. Industry professionals should get in touch with math, science and English teachers to let them know about the level of academics required to have a career in collision repair. It’s important to inform them about the industry, and let them know about all of the types of jobs that exist within collision repair. That allows teachers to offer helpful information to students to guide them starting at a young age.

All of these levels of educational institutions need to understand the capacities and capabilities the industry is looking for. Industry professionals need to continue to promote the image of the collision repair industry as a viable career path so parents and teachers can help students get engaged. It’s extremely helpful for industry representatives to do this. It brings tremendous value and credibility to students, parents and school instructors when they hear information directly from the industry.

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