With many of its performance indicators down slightly or essentially flat, I-CAR spent most of the four days in Scottsdale, Arizona, in late July looking ahead to new ways of delivering training, new partnerships with automakers, and a new world headquarters building for the organization.
Past performance, future plans
With nearly 750 people in attendance, this year's annual meeting was the largest yet. I-CAR CEO Tom McGee pointed to a number of other positive numbers for the organization this past year. The number of active I-CAR instructors was up for the second year in a row; the number of classes offered throughout North America was up 4 percent to more than 7,000; and annual revenue was the second-highest ever.
It was clear, however, that I-CAR's revenue is not as solely reliant on students actually attending I-CAR classes as it once was. I-CAR "students units" (one unit equals one student taking one class) for the past year were about 106,000, the lowest in over a decade, and down from about 111,000 the previous year and a 30 percent drop from 2002 totals.
Tech clinic on reuse of undeployed airbags canceled
More than two dozen 45-minute technical clinics were offered over three days during the I-CAR annual meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, but the one that seemed to generate the most discussion was the one that didn't occur.
"Never Before Deployed OEM Airbags: Are They A Viable Repair Option?" was canceled at the last minute although it still appeared in the schedule of events. Like each of the clinics, the content of the session was prepared not by I-CAR but by the company putting on the clinic. The airbag session was slated to be conducted by a product testing and certification company, Intertek ETL Entela, whose work has included testing of non-OEM parts for the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA).
While a number of attendees at the I-CAR event speculated as to why the session was canceled, incoming I-CAR chairman Rod Enlow said the presenter decided it was premature to share the certification process for salvaged airbags.
"There's an evolving standard that is being built as we speak about never-been- deployed airbags," Enlow said following the I-CAR meeting. "According to Keith Manich who was going to be the presenter, the standard has changed so dramatically in just the last two weeks that the PowerPoint slides were no longer current and relevant, and rather than use old information, he felt it would be better to reschedule for a later date. It is an evolving 32-page standard."
Enlow said Manich did contact I-CAR about canceling the session, but not in time to have it removed from the printed schedules.
One relatively newer source of income for I-CAR is creating vehicle-specific and other training courses for various automakers. McGee said the entire industry benefits from such relationships because these courses become available to anyone in the industry, not just dealership technicians.
McGee admitted that technical problems have limited the success this past year of implementing other means of delivering I-CAR training beyond the traditional on-site instructor-led classes. But he said he foresees growth in the coming year for "CollisionTV" - satellite television feeds of training classes that were originally limited to Canada but which should expand into the U.S. this coming year.
I-CAR is also launching online, self- study courses that will be available through the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. McGee said this option will be used for some vehicle-specific content and some topics for which there is not enough material for a full 4-hour class. Eleven programs will be available initially including one free program to enable users to try the system. Those successfully completing each paid program will earn one-fourth of a Gold Class point.
I-CAR will also soon make it possible for students to log on through the I-CAR website to view their own training transcript and other information.
Moving to new headquarters
McGee said the organization is also nearing completion of its new world headquarters being built in a Chicago suburb. The staff will move into the new building in September.
"It's an investment for us," McGee said, adding that owning its own building is a long-term cost control by allowing I-CAR to avoid escalating rent costs. "This facility has a meeting room that will seat 90 people and can be divided into three smaller rooms. If any industry group needs to utilize that facility in Chicago, just call and ask."
Incoming I-CAR Board Chairman Ron Enlow of the Coordinating Commit-tee for Automotive Repair (CCAR), said all of these activities are positioning I-CAR for future growth.
"Today, at least in this business, learning is a life-long experience," Enlow said. "My advice to us all is to keep learning, keep working, keep striving to get better. You'll gain more value from doing that than from a lifetime of just drawing a paycheck. The collision industry is more dependent than ever on I-CAR training and what it brings to the table to allow technicians and everyone involved in the industry properly perform their job. We want to make that training experience valuable to you."
Foundation plans career websites
The I-CAR Education Foundation, I- CAR's sister organization dedicated to improving the quantity and quality of entry-level collision repair technicians, has continued to focus much of its efforts on helping schools and instructors. More than 300 schools, for example, have purchased the current I-CAR curriculum for use in their collision repair training programs. This is twice the number that were using the curriculum two years ago, according to Ron Ray, executive director of the Foundation.
He said nearly 90 schools participate in the I-CAR Training Alliance, which allows their graduates to leave with Gold Class points, making them particularly appealing to employers seeking to maintain their Gold Class designation.
In the past two years, the Foundation has overseen the distribution of $35,000 in scholarships, funded by Akzo Nobel, to female collision repair students. Ray said before the end of this year, the Foundation will present another $25,000 in scholarships funded by Akzo, and will announce another $25,000 in scholarships funded by another company.
He said by November the Foundation also will unveil two websites designed to attract young people to careers in the industry. The sites will include age-appropriate content for grade school, middle school and high school students. Games, coloring books, trivia and puzzles will dominate the site for younger students, while the high school site will also offer more information on career opportunities.
John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988.