The Next Generation of the Collision Industry
With each generation that enters the collision industry comes new ideas and fresh perspective. Today, the industry faces the reality of a consistently aging workforce where the average age of technicians has risen over 15 percent in the last twenty years.
One organization working to overcome this roadblock is the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF). CREF supports collision repair educational programs, schools, and students with the goal of creating qualified, entry-level employees and connecting them with career opportunities. Recently, some of our team members had the opportunity to attend several CREF career fairs across the country and interact with students who make up the next generation.
These career fairs provide students the opportunity to obtain firsthand information, ask questions, and network with industry representatives. Brandon Eckenrode, Director of Development for CREF, believes the industry should be presented to students as a viable career path beginning in early high school to get more people interested at a younger age.
“They need a company to showcase a great career path for them, so they see how to go from where they are now to a future position in the company,” said Brandon.
Lisa Griffin and Susan Bartle, FinishMaster’s Talent Acquisition Consultants, said it is important to provide students with the tools they need to be successful in the industry. Things like a mentor system, hands-on formal training, and opportunities to use their creativeness are great ways to keep them engaged.
Many students are under the impression they will have to work on cars the rest of their lives if they enter the industry. It is important to show them this is not always the case. The CREF career fairs do so through representation of various industry segments and companies including paint, tool, equipment, distribution, body shop, dealership, insurance, and more at their events.
Today’s young professionals have many positive things to offer the collision industry. Current students are extremely tech savvy, familiar with computers, and offer adaptability with the fast-paced world. They are interested in the innovative technology used in cars, such as computerized paint matching. This is prompting many students to obtain I-Car certification to ensure they can offer this knowledge to potential employers. More and more women are joining collision programs and making their mark as well.
Something special Brandon sees in the next generation is their ability to look at the industry with a fresh set of eyes. “They will have an outside view and opinion that could provide constructive criticism for some in the industry who believe ‘it’s always been done this way and shouldn’t be done any differently’.”
For young folks interested in pursuing a career in the industry, Brandon encourages them to explore the various paths available. Being an English major in college, he likes to reinforce his point through his own experience – you never know where you could end up, so keep an open mind to all possibilities.
Brandon suggestions students, “go visit a local body shop, sit down with the manager, talk with some current techs, and also look beyond just the body shops for possible career paths.”
As the next generation looks for opportunities in the workforce, the time is now to make the collision industry an interesting and fulfilling career path for young professionals.