Top Shops Collision Repair

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Rethinking recruitment

Source and promote employees using the examples set by the nation's Top Shops
Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 08:00
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Source and promote employees using the examples set by the nation's Top Shops

Recently ABRN spoke with its 2015 Top Shops winners to discuss where and how they're sourcing their next great employee. As usually happens with industry employment issues, the discussion turned to a central question: Why is there a shortage of body shop workers?

Theories abound, but there's no one explanation or single sufficient answer. Owners point to the sometimes challenging, physical nature of collision work. Others say many potential workers have no real idea of what goes on in shops and thus dismiss them as employers. Some repairers point to the negative experiences employees suffer at shops that don't focus on worker satisfaction. This, in particular, they say has helped create a population of "gypsy" workers who move from one shop to another only to wrestle again with the same issues. Some simply abandon the industry. Most undoubtedly share their stories of frustration with family and friends, painting an unfriendly portrait of the industry workplace.

Repairers bump into these disparate issues as they try to form hiring plans. While challenging, some shops have put together recruitment programs that are working. Some of the most successful programs have been created by members of this year's Top Shops class. Their experiences can form the framework of a larger response accessible to the entire industry and appropriate for most any shop.

The art of the apprenticeship

Chantilly Auto Body, the 2015 Top Shops winner, has a long history of sponsorship and support of local schools. They're on the verge of taking these relationships one step further when they institute an apprenticeship program. Business Development Manager Rob Ellison is currently working with three vocational schools to determine how his business will model this program.

On paper, this would seem to be easy. Many vocational schools graduate an average 15-20 collision repair students each year. Chantilly should be looking at a minimum of 45 potentially interested graduates, correct? Actually, the real number is much smaller.

Ellison explains that many, sometimes most, graduates leave these program with no interest in a collision repair career. Some discover they just don't like the work. Others find engine repair more interesting and move over to mechanical service. For others, time in a body repair program was simply a way of padding out their time in school.

Ellison says the key is finding those students who are talented and would consider becoming a repairer and giving them a path into the industry. Since many of these students have little if any idea what actually goes on in a modern repair shop, Ellison is arranging a field trip for students to visit a Chantilly location to witness how a high-production shop operates. He's looking at setting up stations where students can get up close and personal with technology that they don't see in the classroom.

"A lot of these kids are interested in high tech, but their schools can't afford to buy high-end equipment," he explains. "I'd like to let them have a hand seeing how a laser measuring device works."

Beyond shop visits, Ellison is eying a program that fully engages apprentices, one that allows them to contribute and get a real taste of the work-a-day collision repair world. Dave Callister, general manager of Mentor, Ohio-based D&S Automotive Collision and Restyling, says that's significant since shops sometimes stumble at this stage.

They don't formulate an effective program that benefits the apprentice and the shop."Some have kids washing cars for months and little else," he explains. Schools can balk at support if they see little value for their students. "You need referrals from the teacher, so you don't want to lose their confidence," Callister says.

(Photo courtesy of D&S Automotive) Looking for a great future tech, painter of estimator? Detailers have skills and talents that can be molded into other shop careers.
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