This new school will train its students in actual body shops and will be mentored by the shops' management and personnel. Upon completing this 1.5-2 year program, CCI graduates will be ready for employment and won't need to be retrained, according to Robertson, whom ABN sat down with recently.
Q: What was the main reason behind the formation of the Collision Career Institute?
A: Well, it started mostly out of frustration. Frustration on the part of shops that were running out of qualified people. Shops have been poaching people from other shops for a long time in different degrees. But whenever we run into a big expansion by the MSOs, they start getting frantic. They have all these new contracts they need to fulfill and they don’t have the techs to perform the work. So it’s a business strategy for them. Poaching will never stop and the main problem is that the pool is small. So the only thing you can do to remedy the problem is to increase the size of the pool of available technicians, estimators and painters. At first, we were frustrated, but then we saw it as an opportunity, and that was the genesis of the Collision Career Institute. I’ve been an educator in this industry at the community college level for more than 22 years as an instructor at Cerritos College in Norwalk, CA. And the frustration that I was feeling was different from what was being felt in the industry. I felt that in training, we needed to be more focused on what the shops' needs were and less focused on what the school needed.
Q: You're working with Erick Bickett (FixAuto) to develop this program and combining your skill sets to do some groundbreaking things with CCI. Please elaborate.
A: Yes, Erick and I are approaching it from two different directions. I’m obviously coming in from the educational side. We want to educate people better, faster and cheaper. And Erick was kind of approaching it similarly and had instituted his own fast track program at FixAuto trying to get people ramped up into the industry. Soon, we started finding areas of common interest and realized that we were both frustrated about the current situation. So we began throwing ideas around and decided to blend our two programs together. There are large educational institutions out there where, for $40,000, you can get a tech in two years. The problem is that you still have to stop and retrain them. So we tried to address most of the top ten concerns that the shops have in hiring somebody. They don’t want to go out and invest in training someone if they’re just going to go out and move to the next MSO that’s going to offer them another fifty cents to a dollar more per hour. They want to make sure that if they invest in someone, they’re going to stay. So we address that in our program and provide incentives for the technicians to stay, with tool and bonus packages that they'll receive after two years at the same shop.
Q: You carefully screen every potential student prior to admission, is that correct?
A: Yes, because not everyone is ideal for every job in a body shop. The problem with most community colleges is that they will graduate a student if they meet minimum standards. Shops really don’t care if you get an A, B, or C on something anymore. They really want to know that they can do the job and do it successfully and not cause any injuries. Similarly, in the industry, we want these trainees to hit the ground running. So they don’t move on to the next class until they’re finished and validated by a third-party that comes in--somebody that comes in independently and evaluates their skills. And so until they pass, they won’t move on. That’s a different focus. Everything else is always time-based or money-based, related to profit rather than to competency. So we focus on competency that is a departure from the norms out there.
Q: For someone looking to attend CCI, what are the steps?
A: Once we have vetted the person and decided that they are a good candidate, we look for a shop in the area that they’re willing to work in that wants to sponsor them and then we work out the agreements. Applicants go through a full series of assessments to give us a better view about that person and their likelihood to succeed. Each job description that we train for has an ideal personality style that goes with it. There are certain people that you wouldn’t want to have in front of your customers. There are some people that you wouldn’t want to have in charge of putting a car back together. If they’re not detail-oriented, you probably don’t want to have them in charge of all the parts. We try to ferret all that out and we assess that person more discreetly and intensely than a community college is allowed to. There are certain questions that you can’t ask at a community college and it’s more of an open door policy. We accept everybody into every program in a community college, but we don’t at CCI.
Q: When will CCI start accepting its first students?
A: Well, we’re still in the early stages and still running our beta program. We learned a lot from the prototype. We went back and retooled it and modified it and cut it down from two years to a year and a half. We launched beta back in the fall and we’ve learned from those beta students and modified the program. We’ve tweaked it, and those changes in the system will come out in our next launch, which will be in August. We are currently recruiting both shops and students to participate in our August launch. Our target areas for August are the Bay Area and Southern California. Then, we will reload every three months and be going full-speed by the fourth quarter of this year in other regions.