As the nationwide shortage of auto technicians continues, both in body and mechanical repairs, some say the body industry needs to get more involved in educational programs.
National Collision Engineering Program Director John Helterbrand told Repairer Driven News he has seen an increase in interest in technical trade high school programs due, at least in part, to lockdowns. of COVID-19, especially by parents.
“People are looking at the sooner they can get their students involved in something, the better off they will be driven in their future to something that pays more or something they can build on,” he said.
Ron Moore, an automotive body course instructor at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC), told Virginia Public Radio that the move toward a preference for technical training in high school from experience or education post-secondary is a change brought about by a tight labor market.
“The job market is wide open,” Moore said. “I have stores every day, calling me, wanting people, desperately needing people. A few years ago, there were enough people on the job market, with five, six, seven years of experience, they didn’t need entry-level technicians.
According to Virginia Public Radio, CATEC enrollment has increased by 40% over the past two years, and Virginia high school graduates who have taken at least two technical training courses have increased by nearly 14% between 2017 and 2020.
The students told Virginia Public Radio that learning a trade can add to their college education, serve as a back-up plan and help them avoid student loan debt. The outlet noted that the starting salary for automotive technicians can reach $40,000 and eventually, with commission work, reach six figures. Helterbrand and Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) executive director Brandon Eckenrode told Repairer Driven News that amounts vary by location and getting into a trade shouldn’t just be about the money. Eckenrode noted that collision repair technicians can start out earning less than a Starbucks employee and then work their way up to six figures.
“People have realized that maybe there’s another way, and maybe it doesn’t necessarily require a four-year degree, but there are skills that are needed,” said David Eshelman, director careers, techniques, and adult education from the Virginia Department of Education. said Virginia Public Radio.
Helterbrand told RDN that many high schools, unfortunately, have cut studio classes, which were ways for students to discover their interests. “We educate at graduation and that’s not how you should do it.”
“Look at the student’s interest and give them more opportunities to explore things,” he said. “I would definitely encourage if the students are interested in cars, going to car shows. Or maybe the students just like putting things together if they like taking things apart and putting them back together. Notice the videos they watch. Are they intrigued by how things work or not?… I tell parents all the time, go to body shops.
The competitiveness of employers stems from the shortage of technicians, he added. To fill the current shortage, 20,000 to 25,000 collision technicians are needed each year according to TechForce Foundation surveys, according to Eckenrode.
TechForce’s “2021 Transportation Technician Supply and Demand Report” indicates that demand for collision, automotive and diesel technicians is strong with 797,530 needed through 2025, but the shortage continues to worsen. Eckenrode speculated that the shortage will likely increase as technicians approach retirement, with the average age now at 50 or more.
Although interest in collision repair education has not changed significantly, in part due to a lack of program awareness, there has been more emphasis on what entry into the industry would be like. industry, according to Eckenrode. He said CREF has seen more talk of trades being a viable career path compared to the traditional four-year university route.
“I think this is an opportunity for industry to take advantage of making sure their local schools are well equipped, well supported, so that if there’s a surge of interest in the trades that… local high school and college collision repair programs are to attract the best students,” Eckenrode said, adding that the earlier students have the opportunity to participate in a collision repair program, the better. “We would like to be the first choice, but it depends on the industry. It’s about getting really involved, helping these programs, working with the instructors, being part of their advisory boards.
Eckenrode invites anyone in the collision industry to contact CREF to work together to help schools with their programs. CREF is currently working with high school counselors to educate them about what the industry is and about career paths so they can pass the information on to students and their parents. Part of the foundation’s outreach includes its PSA Operative Talent campaign to attract a new generation of collision repair technicians.
Helterbrand also encourages repairers to get involved in education. “Everyone has to get involved in some way, even if you think it means nothing to you, you have to,” he said. “The first thing you do is get on the advisory board and stop complaining [without action] and then you start making changes; you start asking questions.
For students graduating with collision repair certifications, employers and colleges should work to supplement what they have already learned to help them succeed in further education or their first job, said Helterbrand.
Collision repair photos provided by Collision Repair Education Foundation.