Thursday, 31 August 2006 17:00

I-CAR Ed Foundation celebrates 15 years

Written by Autobody News staff
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Look back to auto industry news in 1991 and it becomes clear just how much has changed in 15 years. In 1991, consumers were grousing as gasoline hit $1.40 a gallon. GM was rolling out the Geo Metro convertible and only the first of its plastic-paneled Saturn vehicles. Air bags, CD players, and anti-locking brake systems were found in only a minority of cars. And virtually all European and Japanese import vehicles were built only overseas. 

Look back to 15 years ago in the collision industry and it becomes clear how much the I-CAR Education Foundation has accomplished.

Back in 1991, there were no nationally coordinated scholarship programs to attract students to the industry. There was no nationally-recognized curriculum for use in teaching entry-level collision repair skills. There was no organization giving collision repair instructors a way to interact and learn from one another. And there was no organized and widely-accepted way for schools, collision repair businesses and students to all mutually-benefit from working together.

"Over a span of 15 years, I am proud to say that the I-CAR Education Foundation is making its mark on the collision industry," remarked Clark Plucinski, executive vice president of True2Form in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and I-CAR Education Foundation Board Chairman. "There is more work for us ahead but looking back we have many reasons to be proud."

Fifteen years after it was created to address the shortage of qualified collision repair technicians, the I-CAR Education Foundation reflects back on its history, highlighting its many accomplishments, honoring those who helped make it happen, and looking ahead to the work still left to be done.

"We may take some of these things for granted now, but it's important to remember that in 1991, just 15 years ago, none of that existed," said Chuck Sulkala, the owner of Acme Paint & Body in Boston, Massachusetts, who was one of the four first trustees for the I-CAR Education Foundation after its formation and Trustee Emeritus. "It's only by looking back that you realize how far we've come and how much we've accomplished."

The early years

Jeff Silver says the creation of the I-CAR Education Foundation was based in part on what he was reading about other industries. Back in the late 1980s, Silver, now owner of a CARSTAR collision repair facility franchise in Mundelein, Illinois, but at the time executive vice president of I-CAR, said a national organization of association leaders was reporting efforts in various industries to address what they foresaw as forthcoming "people shortages."

"I looked at the demographics and trends and numbers these other groups were seeing, and thought, if it's going to affect all these other industries, I bet it's going to affect ours as well," Silver said.

After conducting more research, informal brainstorming sessions with I-CAR board members, and focus group meetings within the industry to discuss the potential shortage of quality entry-level technicians, the not-for-profit I-CAR Education Foundation was established in early 1991.

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Helping instructors through CRIN

At the Chicago symposium and other early discussions regarding the Foundation, it became clear that one of the first steps in addressing the need for quality entry-level technicians was improving the quality and consistency of collision repair training throughout the country.

As Foundation work brought together some of the best instructors from the best collision repair training programs in the country, it became clear that all instructors could benefit from better communication amongst themselves. In June of 1992, the Foundation created the Collision Repair Instructors Network™ (CRIN). "CRIN has proven to be a valuable resource for instructors," said Larry Carter, president of Car-O-Liner in Wixom, Michigan, and I-CAR Education Foundation Chairman Emeritus.

"We felt that by helping the best career and technical school and college instructors get to know each other, we could create an association of instructors that would share ideas, learn from one another, and help each other to improve."

In the early years, CRIN members gathered twice a year for meetings that included workshops and speakers. More recently, technology has allowed CRIN members to get even more from the organization - without the time and expense involved in travel. Through an in-kind service from I-CAR, CRIN members began participating several years ago in "WebEx" meetings, interactive presentations via phone and computer.

Topics have included workplace safety, pollution prevention, and 'black box' technology.

In 2003, CRIN launched its own monthly e-newsletter; it regularly features a web site that will be of use to instructors, shares the latest information from I-CAR and the Foundation, and includes articles submitted by CRIN members.

Since 1997, CRIN also has had booth space - donated by the Automotive Service Association (ASA) - at the annual International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE). This gives CRIN the opportunity to recruit new members and gives CRIN members a chance to network with industry vendors at the show.

At the suggestion of CRIN members, the Foundation began presenting annual "Instructor of the Year" awards in 1996. The awards honor career and technical school and college instructors at qualifying schools who actively participate in CRIN and who actively recruit students and work to improve their training program.

Helping schools

CRIN is only one of the ways the Foundation has worked to improve the quality of collision repair training at schools around the country and internationally.

Back in 1991, many schools and instructors struggled with developing or maintaining effective, up-to-date collision repair curriculum. In one of its biggest undertakings, the Foundation developed its own comprehensive curriculum and made it available to schools.

Dozens of companies and individual contributors - including a $60,000 donation from State Farm Insurance Companies - rose to the challenge of raising the funds needed for the multi-year effort of developing the ADVANCE-TECH® curriculum, eventually adopted by about half of the nation's 1,400 collision repair training programs.

Just as vehicle technology and industry trends continued to change, the Foundation recognized the need for change and updating of its school curriculum as well. As I-CAR shifted to a more modular system of training, with each CD-ROM based course more tightly focused on a specific topic with testing, the Foundation saw that this regularly-updated course material was well-suited for use in the schools as well. In 2001, the Foundation began assisting schools in shifting from the ADVANCE-TECH to the I-CAR Live curriculum. Today, more than 400 schools now use this training material, along with a Foundation-created supplemental program, to give aspiring technicians a more complete education.

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"We are very proud of the Foundation's ability to provide schools with the latest and most up-to date curriculum," said Larry Costin, vice chairman of CCC Information Services, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois, and I-CAR Education Foundation Trustee Emeritus. "Students not yet into their professional careers are receiving the same training as professionals already working in the collision industry."

The Foundation has been getting additional support from I-CAR volunteer committees and individual volunteers to support events such as golf tournaments, awareness events, and other local events. These events not only provide some monetary general support for the Foundation but they also benefit local career and technical schools and colleges, supporting the schools with purchasing curriculum, scholarships for the students, and general school needs. As funding becomes more and more of a challenge for career and technical schools and colleges, volunteer efforts become even more imperative to the future of the collision industry.

Attracting students

Not all of the Foundation's efforts have focused on helping schools and instructors."Our goal has always been to improve the quantity as well as the quality of entry-level technicians," said Ron Ray, who took the reins as the third executive director of the Foundation in 1998.

Scholarship funds have been a proven tool in student recruitment and retention, and the Foundation has developed partnerships with a number of industry organizations to create successful scholarship programs.

As part of its "Most Influential Women in the Collision Repair Industry" program, for example, Akzo Nobel Coatings since 2003 has worked with the Foundation to present thousands of dollars in scholarships to female collision repair students at ASE-certified schools around the country.

More recently at NACE in 2005, CCC Information Services announced that it would work with the Foundation to present $25,000 in scholarships to assist collision repair students.

In 2005, the Foundation launched two new web sites: www.collisionkids.org and www.collisioncareers.org. The sites - one aimed at high schoolers, the other at younger children - are loaded with age-appropriate games, activities and information to help introduce and attract students of all ages to the career opportunities this industry offers.

"The web sites are a fun and effective way to reach students in a way that this industry never has," Ray said.

Helping businesses and the industry

In addition to helping schools and attracting students, the Foundation throughout its 15-year history also has looked for other ways to help the businesses that hire entry-level technicians coming out of collision repair training programs.

A growing number of students arrive at the business with I-CAR points that can help the shop earn or maintain its Gold Class Professionals™ status and individuals earn or maintain their Platinum Individual™ designation. Since 2001, schools that have qualified and applied for the I-CAR Industry Training Alliance™ can offer students those points. As of 2006, 109 schools have joined the Alliance and a total of more than 40,000 I-CAR points have been redeemed by graduates.

In recent years, the Foundation has also expanded its job-preparedness program, originally underwritten by a grant from State Farm, and now in use at 72 schools. "People Actively Creating Employability through Short-Term Task Training," better-known as PACE + ST3®, is designed to more quickly give students the basic skills the industry has identified as needed to become a productive helper working in a collision repair business. It includes a web-based documentation system that helps the school and business learn and implement the program effectively, and helps the school, business, student, and the Foundation track progress and success.

"PACE + ST3 was an important step for the Foundation to address the real needs of the repairer," said Don Askew, president of Askew Enterprises in Mount Gilead, Ohio, and I-CAR Education Foundation Chairman Emeritus. "Through this program, students are taught and trained to be productive from their first day on the job. This is a very important step in meeting the needs of the industry."

Recent news

As the Foundation celebrates its 15th anniversary this summer, Ray reported on some of its most recent activities and accomplishments during the I-CAR International Annual Meeting in San Jose, California. The past year brought the first state-wide endorsement of the I-CAR curriculum. North Carolina now requires the use of the curriculum in all of the state's high school collision repair programs.

"We also continue to recognize the growing number of companies that have consistently supported our mission through financial contributions for at least 10 years," Ray said. "We feel it is important that the industry understand which companies - and there are now more than 20 of them - not only understand the critical need to address the shortage of qualified entry-level technicians, but are willing to invest their resources to do so."

That support, Ray and others involved with the Foundation say, is vital because there is still much work to be done.

 

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