Just over a decade ago, there were approximately 1,400 high school and college collision repair programs in the United States, according to Brandon Eckenrode, director of development for the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF).
The latest statistics show that number has dropped dramatically to roughly 1,000.
Eckenrode frequently receives calls from concerned technical instructors who tell him that if enrollment doesn’t increase, their school programs will most likely be shut down and students won’t have access to the training necessary to work in the collision repair industry.
As a result, CREF is taking steps to support these programs and ensure there will be enough students to help fill the overwhelming number of jobs currently available.
“There are more opportunities than people available to fill these positions,” said Eckenrode. “We’ve heard from some of the school instructors that without our help and the different donations we support, their programs would be closed.”
In some schools, instructors reportedly are only allocated $50 per student for the entire year.
“It’s difficult for instructors to graduate a highly trained, entry-level staff member when they are facing limited budgets,” said Eckenrode who has worked with CREF since 2009.
CREF’s roots date back to 1991 when the collision industry was also facing a critical shortage of qualified and well-trained entry-level employees and was initially focused on distributing I-CAR curricula to high school and college students. It was designed to teach the body shop skills required of entry-level employees.
In 2008, CREF became a traditional, 501c3 philanthropic organization, working with industry partners to support high school and college collision repair school programs, students and instructors across the country. The first year, the organization raised $300,000. Since then, that number has grown to $100 million.
More than 85 percent of what has been raised comes in the form of in-kind donations, including tools, equipment, supplies, paint, estimating software and safety glasses. Eckenrode said schools desperately need these items, especially when faced with increasingly limited and shrinking budgets.