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Monday, 13 April 2015 00:00

Tech Program in NC Prepares Former Soldiers to Enter Collision Industry

No one has been able to come up with the definitive numbers, but everyone in the collision industry knows that qualified, well-trained body and refinish technicians are hard to find. And that’s why training the techs of tomorrow today is a huge concern for the collision industry, especially since many will be reaching retirement age within the next five years.

It’s gotten so bad that many body shop owners complain that other shops are stealing their best people, by offering them better pay and added perks like longer vacations and weekends off. 

MSOs are more prone to acquiring existing shops over building new ones, because for one reason, they can re-hire their personnel and bypass the huge obstacle of finding and hiring qualified techs.  

So, that’s why technical schools all over the country are establishing automotive repair programs at a rapid rate, in order to fill the void. One of these is Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) in North Carolina, a school that provides over 190 occupational, technical, general education, college transfer and continuing education programs for 42,000 students. Opening last summer, the curriculum at FTCC covers the collision industry from both the insurance perspective and the repair/re-manufacturing perspective.

Graduates can earn am Associate Degree in applied sciences, along with certifications for non-structural repairs, refinish, auto physical damage appraiser and estimating. They can also earn steel structure, aluminum structure and ASE B2 through B5 certifications, thereby covering almost every job available in the industry. A partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car provides the school with late model cars to work on in FTCC’s 25,000 sq. ft. body shop that provide a real-world work environment and contains all of the latest equipment available, including an aluminum clean room; waterborne paint system; nitrogen plastic welders and two of the latest frame alignment systems.

One of the most important things about the program is its relationship with Fort Bragg and the National Guard. By helping members of the military as they transition to life as civilians, Fort Bragg and FTCC are beginning the process of stocking the industry with top recruits that are job-ready and prepared to meet the challenges of this highly coveted career. With a curriculum developed by I-CAR, the organization’s Sr. Director of Segment Development Bill Stage said he has seen the program at FTCC grow quickly during its short time in existence. 

“My biggest role is to oversee all of our operations with the career and technical schools that teach collision repair. And there are still about 1,100 high schools and college in the U.S. that have a program and most of them are using bits and pieces of our curriculum if not a full bore package.

“We’re on our third generation of curriculum and it’s called the Professional Development Program - Education Division,” Stage said. “So it’s designed for the schools. It’s gone through several evolutions and our latest edition, which has been out for two years is called the Education Edition. We launched this package in 2012 for the schools. And we’ve spent a year talking to over 400 individuals doing research after we launched the Professional Development Program to ask employers, schools, administration, some students even to ask 'what should we be offering the schools?' And they basically said 'Hey you’ve defined it for the industry, we just need the skills of an entry level technician' and they defined that as, what we call the non-structural, Pro-level One. They told us that they want to hire a Non-Structural Pro-level One or a Refinish Pro-level One, so that’s what we’ve provided. I-CAR also learned a lot by polling body shops nationwide," Stage said. “They told us that they want to hire individuals that have a lot of laboratory, hands-on experience, so the curriculum is designed to consist of 30% in the classroom and 70% on the shop floor.  FTCC took the ball and ran with it and they’re currently using our model very well and actually teaching a lot more than what we call the Base Package consisting of Pro-Level One Non Structural and the Pro-Level One Refinish is the Base Package.”

How many schools are currently using I-CAR’s curriculum?

“We have 323 schools today using it in various stages,” Stage explained. “Some started last week and some started two years ago, but they’re utilizing it and probably 90-95% of them are just teaching those two entry level skills. FTCC actually just goes way beyond that, because they’re teaching some Pro-Level 2 and 3, as well as teaching things like structural steel, aluminum welding and estimating using our curriculum, for example.”

Bill Buckner is the associate Vice President for Military and Veteran Programs at Fort Bragg, so he has played an integral part of the new automotive repair department at FTCC from the beginning. He is proud of the school and its goal of turning former members of the military into skilled technicians.

“Body shop owners have told us that they want employees they don’t have to train,” Buckner said. “From day one, they want an individual who can be productive for the shop and for themselves. They want people who will know how to remove and replace a bumper cover; do plastic repairs, fix a dent in a fender; prep a car for paint and then paint the car without heavy supervision. They want people with skills that have been honed in a lab environment, so that they can literally hit the ground running and that’s what we’re working toward at FTCC.”

Shops all over the country are anxious to hire FTCC’s new, fresh techs after graduation, according to Buckner.

“There are body shop chains out there that have told the school that they’ll hire every graduate on the spot. The shortage of technicians is very real and that’s why shops are interested in what we’re doing here at FTCC, in conjunction with Fort Bragg.

“We have 42,000 students that we service here at FTCC In terms and we’re definitely excited about our relationship with I-CAR,” Buckner said.  “The department is only a year old, so it is growing and developing as we get the word out about the program, but we’ve obviously recognized the fact that this is a viable career option, so we want to facilitate that learning and to help the students to make the transition from the military to the working world.

“The Army in general is undergoing a forced reduction, because of budget cuts and other factors,” Buckner concluded. “So, there are going to be thousands of soldiers that will get out of the Army a little bit earlier than they had planned and that’s where FTCC’s Collision Repair and Refinishing Technology Program is a good way to segue them into the civilian sector, if they’ve got an interest and passion for the collision repair.”

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