Monday, 28 February 2005 17:00

High school body shop encourages students to choose CR careers

Written by Karyn Hendricks

Follow the winding road through the campus of Samuel Morse High School in San Diego and the pot of gold at the end is Tiger Paw Auto Body - a fully functioning collision repair shop designed to train new technicians for the auto body industry. 

 

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Late model cars are used for instruction at Tiger Paw Auto Body, unlike most training programs that rely on old junkers.
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Michael Lawrence (l) works with Andrew Milligan (r), students at Morse High School, on buffing the trunk of this late model Nissan.

A joint effort between State Farm Insurance, the San Diego City Schools, and volunteers from the auto repair industry, this innovative program provides hands-on instruction on vehicles with new technology to prepare students for entry into the collision repair business.

Two main goals of the program are to give students experience with new technology and to upgrade the image of the auto body profession.

State Farm's commitment

State Farm, along with industry partners, provides late model cars, materials, curriculum assistance, and other donations needed to operate a successful program. The company sees adequate education as a serious problem facing the collision repair industry and has created the Excel Tech program to create more interest among students to enter the auto body repair field.

Most secondary education auto body programs teach and practice on old cars. With the technology of auto manufacturing advancing so rapidly, students leave these programs unprepared to work on today's complex vehicles. They often end up underpaid and discouraged, perhaps leaving the profession altogether. The modern facility and newer model cars more realistically portray what students can expect to find in the real world of collision repair.

The program also seeks to change the image of an auto body career to reflect the high technical demands and education needed to repair vehicles with such complicated technology. To this end, students take traditional courses in computer science, English, math, physics and chemistry, to name a few, and then learn to apply the book knowledge to operations in the shop.

Dramatic shortage of technicians

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are over 60,000 automobile technician positions currently unfilled in the United States due to a lack of qualified workers. If this shortage continues, rising wages for adequately trained auto body technicians may drive up the cost of car repair for Americans.

"Cars today are high tech. Automobile technicians need math and computer skills along with training on modern, technology-rich cars in order to be prepared for jobs in today's auto repair shops. State Farm is proud to help Morse High School provide a quality program for its students," explained Tom Howlett, State Farm property claims trainer and acting president of the Advisory Board for Excel Tech at Morse High School. "I have never seen a vocational auto body program that used vehicles that were less than a decade old. How can graduates compete with such a lack of hands-on experience with modern methods of repair?"

Second Excel Tech program

Morse is the second in State Farm's Excel Tech Program, which was established in 2001 at Swenson Arts and Technical School in Philadelphia, Pennsyl-vania. Excel Tech programs are designed to modernize auto technician programs, truly preparing students for careers in collision repair.

"This program is providing a real benefit to our student body and providing a quality career opportunity for some students. Automobile technician jobs today are quality careers that require solid skills and comprehensive training. State Farm has been a great partner in making this possible for our students," stated Rob Atterbury, San Diego Schools director of Schools-to-Career.

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Atterbury continued that this program is part of an effort to keep kids in school. A modern, goal-oriented program such as Tiger Paw Auto Body creates a "teachable moment" for students who get the concept of how their academics coincide with the hands-on work they are doing in the shop. "We have created a situation where the students come to us - hungry for knowledge. And we are pleased that as a first step, we can offer this type of collision repair training."

Not a grungy profession

The outdated perception that repairing cars is not a noble profession leads many students and their parents to shun this career choice, resulting in lack of support for auto tech programs. The career choice of being an auto technician is extremely viable with the proper educational background. These days, it is more than just a hands-on tool job. Specialized math and computer skills are required to diagnose and repair problems on today's ad-vanced cars.

And it can be a very lucrative career. Salaries for trained auto technicians can range from $40,000 to more than $100,000, depending on the extent of training and education. It is important to dispel the image that repair-ing cars is a dirty, undesirable job.

What about college?

A common misconception is that students who choose to study a skilled trade will not attend college. To earn a degree, students must acquire a solid foundation in math, communication, and computer skills, to which they are more receptive when combined with hands-on technical training. In fact, many students put these very skills to work to pay their way through college. In addition, such basic training in collision repair can open doors to multiple career paths.

 

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