Multi-school program is designed to attract and develop entry-level talent to fill essential roles within the collision repair industry
Designed to attract and develop entry-level talent to fill essential roles within the collision repair industry, and enhance retention and advancement among collision repair technicians, the program is piloting at four schools across the country: Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., and Texas State Technical College in Waco, Texas.
The program has been developed to address a paradigm shift in the transportation industry as it faces a major technician shortage. With nearly 80,000 new collision technicians needed between 2020 and 2024, according to the TechForce Foundation, demand is significantly outpacing a steadily declining supply of postsecondary collision technician entrants.
Meanwhile, today’s rapid pace of vehicle innovation and connectivity is adding demands on technicians to have expertise in not only car repair, but also technology and engineering.
“Collision repairers are facing unprecedented challenges in growing their workforce to sustain their businesses. Meanwhile, the opportunity for future technicians to build successful, well-paying careers in this industry is enormous,” said Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS).
“Collision engineering is an exciting, viable and rewarding career. By increasing awareness of these opportunities and training students to become meaningful entrants to the industry, the Automotive Collision Engineering Program is helping fill both the worker shortage and skills gap that exist. This program represents a strategic and collaborative response from an industry with a great deal to offer new members of the workforce, and a critical investment in the future of automotive repair.”
Schulenburg is one of more than a dozen industry thought leaders serving on the advisory board for the Automotive Collision Engineering Pilot Program. Board members, who provide program guidance, include:
- Chris Andreoli, Corporate Claims Process Director, Progressive
- Jen Boyer, Global Collision Business and Strategy Manager, Ford Motor Company
- Mike Croker, Global Repair & Training Product Manager for Collision, Chief Automotive Technologies
- Ty Gammill, Senior Vice President Talent Development, Caliber Collision
- Don Hermanek, President, The Hermanek Group; former Chief Client Officer, Insurance Auto Auctions
- Sean Huurman, Chief Human Resource Officer, Service King
- Don Mikrut, Chief Development Officer, Repairify
- Kim Morin, VP & Chief Human Resource Officer, Gerber Collision and Glass
- Chris Northup, CEO & Managing General Partner, Professional Parts Group
- Wendy Scheper, AVP of Claims, American Family Insurance
- Aaron Schulenburg, Executive Director, SCRS
- Terry Ticel, Director of Field Sales, I-CAR
- Ryan West, AVP of Claims – Lakeland Region, GEICO
Shifting Education Approach and Career Perception
The program follows Ranken Technical College’s apprenticeship model, which prepares students for success by treating them as professionals from day one. Designed with auto collision industry needs in mind, the program encourages schools and industry to work together to facilitate lifelong learning for the future leaders of the collision industry.
Through this defined two-year apprenticeship model, students receive real-world education by working alongside industry experts while also earning their associate degree. Participating students from Ranken Technical College, College of Lake County, Contra Costa College and Texas State Technical College are matched with an employer partner.
A portion of the student’s pay for work completed at the shop is subsidized by the program. Students rotate between eight weeks of classroom/lab experience and eight weeks of full-day work-based learning at a participating collision repair facility.
Several body shops (both multi-shop operators and independents) as well as the Ford Certified Collision Network are participating in the program and promoting the opportunity to host a student apprentice at their shops.
Any shops that are interested in participating are encouraged to contact John Helterbrand, National Automotive Collision Engineering Program Director and Automotive Collision Repair Department Chair at Ranken Technical College.
“This program is about changing the approach to educating students for a career in collision repair,” said Helterbrand. “Unlike traditional classroom-based models, our program introduces students to the industry early on – providing opportunities to gain practical collision engineering experience, and ultimately better preparing new technicians to enter the modern workforce.”
The Ranken model, which already operated under a hybrid learning philosophy, easily adapted to new educational challenges that have arisen as a result of COVID-19. A digital learning management system has likewise been developed and rolled out to the other participating schools to facilitate virtual learning.
An initial investment from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation is funding program expenses for the two-year pilot, as well as an industry-first digital advertising campaign to raise awareness of the career path among prospective students, their parents and school counselors.
With slogans like, “Where Silicon Valley & Motor City Collide,” the campaign aims to update the perception of a career in the collision industry. “The automobile has changed dramatically in recent years. As vehicles continue to grow in complexity, so do the repair processes required of technicians,” Helterbrand added. “Tomorrow’s automotive technician will be much more like an engineer.”
“We’re proud to be spearheading the Automotive Collision Engineering Program through this innovative pilot. As the world’s largest car rental provider and an industry leader in mobility and technology, we have a huge stake in the health of the automotive repair industry and are committed to doing our part to invest in its success,” said Mary Mahoney, Vice President, Insurance Replacement Division at Enterprise Holdings.
“We’re encouraging other industry leaders to join us in addressing the industry shortage and shaping the future of automotive repair.”