“The idea that when you get to work in a trade, you don’t use your mind, is a myth that we want to bust.”
Dara Goroff, I-CAR Vice-President of Planning and Industry Talent Programming
In July 2023, the CollisionCareers.com website and social channels officially launched with the goal of building a bridge between the growing field of collision repair and the skilled professionals who will shape its future. Dara Goroff, I-CAR Vice-President of Planning and Industry Talent Programming, chatted with us on how schools, parents, educators & counselors can support students and career-changers to create qualified employees and connect them with rewarding career opportunities. Listen to the conversation on our podcast page.
CollisionCareers.com has mapped out two primary guided paths for job seekers to follow to begin a career in collision repair. Can you describe those?
Dara: Yeah, absolutely. So much like yourselves, we are absolutely passionate about bringing new talent to this industry.
And one of the things that we realized is that the talent… So Collision Careers is part of a larger initiative that I-CAR and CREF have joined together to bring to the industry, but also to penetrate the industry’s roles and be able to reach out to… young people who are trying to decide what to do with their lives, their parents and their school advisors. As such, Collision Careers really does try to draw people’s attention to the two places where you can primarily learn about a trade.
You can either go to a trade school and you can be educated by instructors who give you a taste of the spectrum of the things you’ll have to do in a repair center, or you as you can imagine, especially after COVID, a lot of young people, a lot of job seekers, career changers, those returning from the military may just show up at a shop.
They may see an ad in an online source or even, my God, an old-fashioned newspaper, and show up at a repair center, but they’ve got zero foundational knowledge. So what Collision Careers is meant to do is to take folks who, first of all, don’t know about the industry and get them excited about this growing, innovative and stable career.
But secondly, It’s to take those who are really excited about taking that first step and introducing them to either schools or repair centers that are looking to either fill their rosters or hire and even possibly, you know, getting them started with the very first step at a career fair that’s hosted by one of those two places.
How does a knowledge of I-CAR standards enhance that training experience for a student who’s exploring collision repair as a career path?
Dara: Well, as you may know, but maybe your audience doesn’t know, one of the things that I-CAR is incredibly proud of is with input from the industry, they’ve created what they call a knowledge and skills protocol, which basically sets the standard for every knowledge area and every skills area a person would need to be able to perform a safe, quality, complete repair. Like I said earlier, like you said earlier, for the benefit of the person who has that car, the driver, we want them back on the road safely.
So within the walls of this protocol, we’ve identified different knowledge levels, Pro Level One through Pro Level Three, that a professional would need to have in order to continue building that foundational knowledge to fix cars right.
And one of the things we’re most proud of with both Collision Careers and the education that we’re bringing to the table this year is we’ve taken two steps back and we’ve realized that it’s great to train those who are already professionals. But those just starting out in their career, whether it be at a school or a shop, need foundational knowledge with zero assumption that they’ve ever seen anything before.
So we’ve added to the knowledge and skills protocol to address that very entry-level training. And with the idea of the I-CAR standards, we don’t just have our educational programming. We also have resources available, whether it be through Collision Careers or our Repairability Technical Support blog, The Repairs Realm —i t’s almost like what we’re doing right now, but it’s a little bit like a talk show format — where we address all of the innovative topics, all of the new technology topics, and all of the foundational topics needed to stay in line with what those OE standards are, original equipment manufacturers, or as other people know them, the car makers. We want to be in line with their standards.
We want to keep the repair procedures top of mind. And we want to take somebody from zero knowledge to the most professional level of knowledge and keep feeding them what they need to be able to address what we call the technical tsunami as cars get more and more complicated and become computers on wheels.
What does entry-level foundational knowledge involve?
Dara: Just to give you a little bit of foundational knowledge, of course, we launched with the bare bones of like, tell people about this career, tell people the roles in the collision repair shop, because you don’t just join and you know, you have to take out the garbage. You have to learn that there are things to do in a shop that run from, you can be a refinisher, you could be a structural technician, you could be an estimator, and there’s tons and tons of other things. But at an entry level, there are five foundational pieces of knowledge.
So we wanted to introduce an entry level or somebody who’s not even sure what is collision repair all about and teach them how it’s different from a mechanical repair and that there’s multiple ways different elements of things that you can do within the automotive sector as you’re making a career choice.
The other thing we really wanted to do with Collision Careers from the beginning is to be able to address a parent who may not want their daughter to even think about going into a trade. We wanted to be able to provide resources for those who are returning from the military or those changing a career so that they really understood what might I be doing if I take this career on, if I try to learn something.
And the other thing we wanted to do is we wanted to create some certainty that not only is collision repair as an industry stable, hiring all the time, but growing and not just growing as in there’s a new shop here, there’s a new shop there, or this large MSO acquired a bunch of shops and now they’ve grown, but growing in technical complexity. Because the idea that when you get to work in a trade, you don’t use your mind is a myth that we want to bust.
I mean… Collision repairers are problem-solving every day. So, our first idea was just to get the content out there to overcome some of those myths, bust out some of those myths and address an audience we maybe weren’t able to reach.
We’re really proud of the fact that at SEMA 2023, we were able to win a global media award, which kind of told us we were headed in the right direction. And not only that, we achieved enough interest from those who are actively repairing vehicles.
So the shops that came to SEMA and those who are adjacent to the industry that we’ve had some social media takeovers, and we’re starting to build our presence of industry influencers. What we’re looking for in 2024 is to really grow the amount of content that we have.
But we don’t want to just grow it with I-CAR producing marketing content. We want to partner with those in the industry, those who are excited about the trades in general, and those who have a foothold with younger generation so that we can really start creating that buzz and that vibrancy and raising the profile of this industry. Because those of us inside the industry, we’re excited about what we do. We love being part of the collision repair value chain.
But there are a lot of people out there that would not even recommend that their friend or their daughter or their son even think about a career in the trades and a career in automotive and then a career in collision repair. So we want to reach everyone and we want to start changing hearts and minds.
How does Collision Careers collaborate with school administrators and counselors?
Dara: I-CAR and CREF, which is the Collision Repair Education Foundation, really are partnered in the idea of this overall initiative, which is called the Talent Programming Initiative, because it really is a big portfolio of solutions that want, I mean, obviously we are here to try to solve the technician talent crisis.
And one of the things we realized, and this was great because we learned this from educators and educators that had come in to speak to I-CAR at a Collision Repair Education Foundation convention that they put together once a year in Illinois that is meant to help educators really figure out what do they need to have a modern day classroom: What is the best curriculum that they can offer to keep their learners on the right path?
And really, what kind of partnerships can they make with repairers so that there’s a pathway from education to employment? And as we were talking to those educators, we found out that one of the biggest problems we have is with school advisors. And it’s a twofold problem.
First of all, over the past two decades, school advisors have really turned away.
Like when I was younger and I was in school, even my high school had a vocational center attached to it.
And there was a large number of students that spent half their day learning the foundational topics, your math, science, reading, history in a school, and then spent the second half of the day learning whatever trade they were most passionate about, whether it was cosmetology, it could have been automotive, it could have also been something to do with electronics, right? That’s all kind of gone by the wayside. And the majority of the school advisors today, they really recommend a four-year university.
A four-year education program is not right for everybody and not everyone can afford it.
And a lot of times you spend a lot of money and you go into debt to achieve that education. And then when you get your first few jobs, you can’t really afford to even pay off the debt. That’s why we’ve got so much government involvement in like trying to figure out the right thing to do for debt forgiveness. So they’re not recommending trades, one thing.
Second thing is when they do recommend a trade, we found out from our educators that they really do not know the difference between mechanical automotive collision repair-related automotive, and some of them are even confused about this whole world of diesel and heavy-duty trucking.
So what we wanted to do on the Collision Careers social content and downloadable format on our website, the reason we went back to downloadable and PDF and paper and printable, is we wanted this to be something a school advisor could actually put into the hands of an interested party, just like they do with a three- or four-year college trifold brochure, right?
So we created content on: What is collision repair? Where does it fall in the automotive value chain? Why is it important? And what kind of roles exist within a normal repair center, from the person who first triages the vehicle when it rolls up and there’s damage to the person who might be ordering parts, the person who might be doing all of the customer support or triage with the insurance companies. To all of the roles that work together to create a team that is responsible for that safe quality and complete repair of the vehicle.
We wanted to educate about that, and we wanted to make it a no-brainer so those school advisors could have a talk track that was built for them and solve some of that ambiguity around just what happens if somebody’s interested in automotive.
And if somebody says: Well, I love problem solving, I love painting, I want every part of my day to be a little different than the day before, then the right place for them is collision repair. If they say that they love the mechanical aspects of a vehicle, maybe the right place is a franchise dealership, right?
But they have to know the difference in order to make the correct recommendation.
How is Collision Careers tapping into trends and meeting its audience where they are?
Dara: Our social channels have been very helpful there.
The other thing that’s really helped us to meet our audience where they are is that connection to CREF and the fact that CREF already was responsible for establishing career fairs across the country.
So allowing us to actually be physically present is really important because what we’ve learned is social channels can spike interest. And being able to be present on a YouTube or a Pinterest or an Instagram is great.
But making a personal connection is also a way to change a heart and mind that you really don’t want to let go of. The other thing is we are growing in our sponsorship and our presence at SkillsUSA so that we can be there where those who are already coaching and educating and influencing on the trades are.
And then, like I said, one of the things that we’re most excited about in 2024 is growing our partnership coalition so that we not only with I-CAR and CREF, but spread out through those who are already engaging in their communities, who already have robust channels, we can take advantage of the messages that they’re already sending and the audience they already have to really spread the word. Because the problem for the collision repair industry and actually for the trades is significant.
We’ve done some research on our own and we’ve realized that if you just look at the overall trades in the United States, we’ve got millions of open positions and positions where within a couple of years because of retirement, they’re not open right now, but they’re going to need to backfill staff that is getting older.
On the collision repair industry, I’ve heard statistics that range somewhere between a need for 60,000 technicians, but if you look five years out, it’s 100,000.
And we’re competing with all of those trades out there to, like I said earlier, win these hearts, win these minds, to educate and to create interest. And we’re never gonna be able to do it on our own, which is why, like I said, partnership is key for us this year and really meeting people.
Like if you’ve already given your mind space, like you’re a young person and you’ve devote a couple hours a day or a week to gaming, we wanna be present advertising inside of a game. If you’re listening to YouTube or you’re watching YouTube for your content, whether it be streaming a TV show or actually watching somebody who you’re already interested in talk about something they’re passionate about, we want to be present there.
And we want to keep growing the cycle of not just we being I-CAR, CREF, Collision Careers, but the partners in this industry like yourselves, IAMG, who are already doing some of this great work and already have followings.
Since this is a national initiative, are there specific target markets that I-CAR is aiming for?
Dara: Well, so it is interesting because this is absolutely a national problem and it’s absolutely a national initiative.
How we solve the problem in a rural area that may not even be close to a trade school might be different than how we solve the problem together in an urban area where schools and shops are really close together and they can be partnered to make sure that a learner, as they’re learning in a school, gets to see or feel or touch real experience in a shop. But we did start small.
So one of the things that we did shortly after SEMA 2023 is we had targeted campaigns in five major areas in the United States where we already knew there were I-CAR gold class shops, which meant that those shops were committed to a lifetime of learning and keeping modern day equipment and training and technologies in their shop. And also where we knew that there were very viable educators.
So whether it be a high school with a great VOTEC program or a CTE school, we wanted to start in those areas because we wanted to see how effective we’d be driving interest in, you know, the good old marketing word of driving conversion.
We saw a great amount of interest and we were able to really refine some of the content that we were sending out through socials to students. Use the content that was making the most impact and some of the things that didn’t get the interest rate or the click-through rate, abandon some of that.
And with the lessons learned, again, 2024 is a big year. We’ll continue to spread that message nationally. And I can’t say this enough, I’ll repeat it many times: Look for those partners who can help us to get the word out inside the industry, but also those who speak for the trades and have great influence outside of our industry.
What does CollisionCareers.com have on tap for 2024?
Dara: So one thing I wanted to mention, and this was something of great interest inside the industry, we worked at the end of the year with Ducker Carlisle to do a technician job satisfaction and compensation survey. We’ve spent a lot of time with Ducker analyzing the results of that survey, and we gave a little bit of a taste of a high-level overview of those results at SEMA 2023.
One of the things that we’re really excited bringing forward in 2024 is to continue to drill down into what makes a technician happy where they are, what makes them want to change jobs, what kind of compensation packages tend to draw entry-level talent the best versus an experienced technician.
And we’re going to be making that information available widely inside of the industry with white papers, video content, and social soundbites, if you will, because we know there’s one tip of the iceberg. That’s the problem: How to bring people into the industry, attract them and get them excited.
But there’s another tip of that spear, if you will, and that’s: How do we keep them in the industry once we’ve brought them in? Is it increased training? Is it a fantastic shop culture? Is it benefits? So inside of Collision Careers and with also some of the education we will be providing to our shops is the idea of: How do we help make this an industry of choice?
How do we help you to become an employer of choice?
Do young people have different expectations as far as benefit packages, paid time off, than people who joined the industry maybe three decades ago? I think the answer is yes. And we want to make sure that none of us are going into this blind. So we want to attract. We want to train or help with the curriculum that guides that training.
We want to retain through mentorship and training —- if you will, people operations best practices so that not only do we bring new talent to the industry, but we keep them here not just for 18 months, which is the norm right now. If they graduate a trade school and they go into collisions as a career, 18 months is about the norm, but we want them here for a lifetime.
We want those who come in as entry-levels progressing through their career so that they someday might be a shop owner. They might someday be working for an OEM guiding their collision repair team procedures.
They may someday be working for an insurance company, leading a claims department, because honestly, the career paths that branch out of this career are endless. And we need to tell that story too.