CREF on Overcoming the Critical Tech Shortage

What is CREF?

cref logo

CREF stands for Collision Repair Education Foundation and is a national nonprofit and tax-exempt student organization under the Internal Revenue Service Code, Section (501)(c)(3). CREF is also a division of I-CAR (The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair) and was created in 1991 to develop, promote, and distribute a curriculum program designed to teach the skills most needed by entry-level employees of collision repair shops. Today, nearly two-thirds of the 1,370 collision repair schools in the United States use the I-CAR Live or Advance-Tech curriculum.

In 2008, the Collision Repair Education Foundation transformed itself into a traditional philanthropic organization, partnering with industry donors to fill the funding gap that hinders the collision industry. In our first year, we provided more than $1.7 million in grants for collision education. The Education Foundation is committed to continuing to award substantial annual support, both to students and to collision training programs. We are also committed to promoting the collision industry as an excellent career in one of the last real “hands-on” trades in existence—a time-honored trade that offers challenging work requiring skill and aptitude in a field offering growth and opportunity.

What is the Critical Tech Shortage?
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Every year, more than 21,500 collision repair technicians leave the industry, a trend that has increased steadily since 1995. An additional 31,000 technicians leave their current employers for another job within the industry. The average age of collision repair technicians is 38.7, compared with 35.5 in 1995, and more than a quarter of the existing workforce plan to either retire or change jobs in the next 12 months.

These numbers add up to a critical shortage for the collision industry. Even with 80,000 young people enrolled in collision repair classes, there will not be enough qualified graduates to meet growing labor demands. Collision repair training programs graduate only 10 to 15% of their students, which means that only 10,000 of those currently enrolled will achieve a certificate, associate degree, or other formal designation. This year alone, over half of the collision industry hiring needs will be unmet, leaving managers to hire first-time workers with minimal or no training.

Where Does CREF Come Into the Picture?

For young men and women deciding their lives’ direction, CREF builds awareness of collision industry career opportunities within local schools and communities. Our goal is to offer scholarships, grants, and additional educational support that will inspire young people to pursue career options in the collision industry. Our scholarships and grants also remove financial barriers to education; promote opportunities for a diverse workforce; and reward dedication, achievement, and passion for their trade.

cref header@2x

While they are a nationwide industry, CREF recognizes that their business partners draw talent from local communities. Therefore, their goal is to ensure that there is a top-tier collision school in every market in America. These programs have the newest tools, equipment, and supplies to enhance the educational experience, giving students the necessary skills and experience with current repair technology taught in a realistic, practical environment. Collision repair businesses are then able to hire well-trained, productive, and efficient employees from day one on the job.

What Students Are Saying

Collision repair students at Paulding County High School (PCHS) in Dallas, GA sent handwritten notes to members of their program’s advisory board after the school’s second annual Small Car Race, an end-of-year project where students race the six-inch-long small cars they’ve built using recycled car parts. 

• “Dear Advisory Board: Thank you for your support and letting me learn how to repair body work on a car. Without your help, and Mr. Goodwin’s teaching, I probably wouldn’t have learned what I learned this semester.”

• “Thank you for donating tools to help us learn about a new career that can help us later in life.”

• “You guys have done so much for our class. We can’t thank you enough!”

I am a company within the automotive industry. What Can I do?
CREF Part of the Solution

CREF offers an easy way for shops to convert their trash into treasure through the Part of the Solution initiative, an opportunity for shops to support future technicians and the schools that train them, by donating leftover parts that would otherwise be discarded. Parts are the most frequent need reported by schools with collision repair education programs, including fenders, hoods, bumper covers, and a variety of other parts. Without access to these parts, many students are learning on vehicles and parts that are at least a decade old, but with the frequent advances in technology, this leaves students unequipped for a successful career after graduation.

“Shops often grow frustrated by the quality of students they try to hire from local schools, and while I understand that, I have to ask: what have you done to change the quality of the students graduating from these schools?” CREF Managing Director Brandon Eckenrode asks.

“The collision industry needs to get involved with their local schools, but they’re busy. That’s why we started the Part of the Solution initiative to provide an easy way for collision professionals to get involved and invest in the industry’s future by helping elevate the quality of the collision education programs that are training our future technicians. A higher-quality educational program attracts a higher caliber of students who could ultimately become one of your valued team members.”

The parts do not have to just be scrap parts, though. Toyota Motor North America, Inc. believes in taking charge of the future – and that’s exactly why they connected CREF to Toyota Auto Body California, Inc. for a donation of 944 quarter panels, valued at $632,480, which will benefit collision repair educational programs around the country. Quarter panels will be distributed to over 100 schools, immediately impacting over 3,000 students by allowing them to practice the skills needed to succeed in this field; however, the long-term impact will be much higher as instructors often reuse these panels in multiple semesters with many more students. Read that full article here.

How Can I Get Involved?

CREF encourages their inter-industry colleagues – collision repair shops, insurers, materials and equipment suppliers, service and information providers, vehicle manufacturers, related businesses, I-CAR Committees, local business groups, and trade associations – to invest in everyone’s shared future. Your generosity will benefit not only today’s and tomorrow’s students but also the businesses – both local and nationwide – that depend upon collision industry schools to prepare entry-level employees of the highest caliber.

As everyone faces the challenges of a critical shortage of qualified entry-level collision technicians, there’s never been a better time to become involved as a donor or even volunteer to the Collision Repair Education Foundation.

Go here to learn more about all of the different ways that you can get involved.

Additional CREF Resources

Transportation Career Fairs

2022 Golf Fundraiser

Sign Up for CREF’s eNewsletter

Did you enjoy reading this post?

Read more about another amazing program called P.A.C.E.R.

PACER Program to Keep Streets Safe in 2023

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