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California shop expands training, recruitment efforts with auto summer camp

Owner hopes industry can make concerted effort to address technician shortages
Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 07:00
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Shops across the country are struggling with technician recruitment. Fewer new techs are entering the workforce, and existing technicians are often poached by larger shops or consolidators offering big signing and recruitment bonuses.

A number of shops and MSOs have launched training programs to bring new blood into the technician pool but most of these efforts only benefit one particular company. The technician shortage is a systemic problem that will require a concerted effort from the entire industry.

Gustafson Brothers, a mechanical and collision repair shop in Huntington Beach, Calif., has initiated some innovative training programs to expand its own technician pool while also increasing interest in autobody repair regionally. Owner John Gustafson thinks his own company’s approach could provide a template for regional and national industry associations to tackle the staffing issue.

Gustafson is an I-CAR instructor, as well as a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) certified instructor, continuing education insurance instructor, and ASE Master Technician. For the first time this summer, his shop will host an “Intro to Auto Summer Boot Camp” program for teenagers 16 years old and older.

Each of the two four-week session costs $400. The company is marketing the camp via local high schools and job fairs, as well through its online mailing list and social media.

“Auto shop in high school is a lost art,” Gustafson says. “We’re providing an introduction to automotive so young people can get exposed to what we consider a STEM career in auto.”

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The camp will provide the basics of how cars are manufactured and purchased, as well as an introduction to how cars work, maintenance, and autobody repair. All sections include hands-on training. Gustafson and other certified instructors will lead the training.

While Gustafson says he got the initial idea for the camp four years ago, it took some time before the shop could offer the courses to the general public. The training center can accommodate up to 20 students for each session, but for the first camp Gustafson says they are targeting a class of 12 students.

Gustafson Brothers has already established itself as a leader when it comes to education. The company has its own 2,500-square-foot training center that offers I-CAR training, as well as insurance agent training and other courses.

In addition to the boot camp, the company has created a career path training program that can move new technicians from entry-level status to master technician over the course of seven years. The program is designed to both help get new technicians trained and help existing employees advance their careers.

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