Tuesday, 05 May 2009 14:30

Yoswick --- Helping Vocational Schools Train the Technicians You Will Need

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In the last 12 months, approximately 21,500 collision repair technicians—about one in every 9 currently working in shops—left the trade. That doesn’t mean they left to go to work for another shop; that means they are no longer turning wrenches.

The 2007 I-CAR Education Foundation survey used to determine this figure did have some good news. Not all of those techs left the industry entirely. More than a third of them took an industry-related job, such as an estimator or manager.

But still, the industry needs to replace them. Fortunately, vocational schools are generating about 10,300 new technicians each year, enough to fill almost half of those openings left by techs leaving the industry.

But there are things you can be doing to help those schools improve the quality and quantity of those new technicians. And with more input from the industry, schools could begin to fill more of those technician job openings that they do each year, and students could enter the industry more prepared to be productive and profitable for employers. Here are a few ways you can do your part.

● Pony up $100. The non-profit I-CAR Education Foundation is asking shops to donate $100 a year to assist the Foundation with its ongoing work to attract entry-level students to autobody training and assist in preparing them to enter the industry. The Foundation will return 85 percent of funds donated by shops  back to collision repair training programs in that region, to help these schools acquire up-to-date curriculum or other training tools they lack—and for which they may not have a budget. For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation and receive a framed certificate and window decal, visit the Foundation’s website (www.ed-foundation.org) or call (888) 722-3787, ext. 283.

● Help keep the program’s enrollment up. Hal Carman, a collision repair instructor at Portland Community College (PCC) in Oregon said there’s rarely a shortage of shops calling looking for students as potential new technicians. But some years the program struggles to attract enough students to fill its classes. He urges shops to consider if there aren’t dependable, hard-working employees in lower-skilled positions within the shop—such as detailers or lot attendants—that could become the shop’s new technicians with the needed training. Help those employees attend collision repair training while still working at your shop, Carman suggests, and you’ll “build” a new tech out of someone who already is familiar with your business and has proven themselves to be a good employee.

● Be a guest lecturer. Some lessons—such as the importance of wearing personal protection equipment—sink in faster for students when they hear it from potential employers. Some collision repair training programs arrange to have shop owners, vendors or technicians make short presentations to students on a variety of topics. Some have been technical while others relate to trends in the industry, employer expectations, etc. The more involvement students have with shop owners and others actually working in the industry, instructors say, the more realistic their expectations are when they graduate.

● Help the program become NATEF certified. Just as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifies technicians, the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF), an off-shoot of ASE, offers a voluntary evaluation and certification for mechanical and collision repair training programs. If a training program can meet NATEF’s evaluation of curriculum, instructor qualifications, equipment, and administrative and industry support, it’s generally able to produce the type of entry-level technicians the industry so desperately needs. To find out more about NATEF and see a list of certified programs, visit its website (www.natef.org).

● Help the program get access to late model vehicles. NATEF certification is often one key step in helping a school get donations of vehicles from automakers. Shops can also help connect schools with regional claims supervisors at insurance companies to see if the insurers are willing to donate one or more salvage vehicles each year for the school to use in training.

● Help students get the tools they need. Laura Angell, a collision repair instructor at Warren Technical College in Lakewood, CO, said she worked with local shops and vendors to set up a internship program that also helps students acquire the tools they need in the industry. If a student saves $400 for tools during his or her internship at a shop, the shop matches that $400 and Snap-On also offers a $400 credit, so the student can acquire $1,200 worth of tools in just a few months.

● Let students tour your shop. Even the best students at the best training programs are apt to feel overwhelmed their first day on the job in a “real shop.” Help give them a better idea of what to expect by inviting instructors to bring students in to visit your facility. This can also help students keep your shop in mind when they’re looking for work. Your shop will become the benchmark against which they will measure others—which may make it harder for competitors who don’t have as nice a facility compete for those technicians in the future.

● Sponsor a scholarship. Most schools have a foundation that accepts tax-deductible scholarship donations and can help you determine how much or how little you want to be involved in establishing selection criteria, etc. Aside from helping a student and the school, such scholarships are also an opportunity for positive publicity for your company in your community, as many such scholarships are announced at high school graduations and in local newspapers.

● Join the industry advisory committee. This is often the best first step to turning a bad program around—or helping a good one get even better. If the school’s instructors and administrators aren’t interacting with shop owners and others in the industry several times a year, how can they hope to give students what they need to succeed in the industry?.

● Help students graduate with I-CAR Gold Class credits. A growing number of schools participate in the Industry Training Alliance, which can help prevent graduates from also having to attend I-CAR classes in order for their new employer to get Gold Class points for the new technician. Click the “Industry Training Alliance” link on the I-CAR website (www.I-CAR.com) for more details, including a list of participating schools.

For more ideas see the online version of this article at www.autobodynews.com

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