In baseball, a farm system is essential to creating a pipeline of successful major league players. The same goes for the bodywork industry. If we create a strong program to ignite interest in our industry among middle and high school students, and then mentor them through their education and training, we can ensure a healthy and qualified for the future.
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Today, as co-owner of three collision repair centers in Denver – CARSTAR Ideal Northglenn, CARSTAR Ideal Arvada and CARSTAR Ideal Littleton – I work every day to recruit and retain team members. Since our industry suffers from a shortage of collision repairers, it is in our interest to provide an in-depth understanding of the industry to students enrolled in collision repair at our local technical schools. Essentially, we are creating an agricultural system to help create our future employees.
Here are some of the mentoring programs we have found to be effective:
- Work with our local technical school staff to provide a formal presentation to all new students regarding the state of the industry. We can introduce them to CARSTAR, highlight our local businesses and provide them with concrete answers for a new employee. The discussion is also about staying in school until they graduate, getting to class on time, and doing their best. A potential employee who graduated from an auto body repair program has a much better chance of being hired than someone who has no industry training or experience.
- Participate in all career fairs that schools organize each year. It gives us another chance to speak directly to students, offer them advice and emphasize the fact that they need to stay in school and graduate. It also allows us to hire part-time students while they are in school.
- Participate in Program Advisory Board meetings at our local technical schools. These meetings give us the opportunity to advise staff on curriculum needs and discuss current industry topics.
- Student/class visits. We are slowly beginning to resume student/class visits to our body repair facilities while they are at school so they can witness the daily operations of a body shop.
- Encourage students to work part-time at one of our locations while they are in school so they have a better understanding of how a collision repair business works. It also gives the student and our landlords the chance to see if it suits both parties. If they show up for work on time every day and put in the effort, a full-time job usually awaits them upon graduation.
I am encouraged to see more young women participating in these collision repair programs. When I meet a young woman who has a desire to work in the bodywork industry, we mentor and train her in the same way as a young man – but we will also ensure that she works in a good environment and be prepared for this man-dominated industry.
Collect the rewards
It’s always gratifying to see our mentoring programs pay off. We currently have several young employees who started at entry level positions and, through hard work, are now being mentored by some of our senior technicians. However, mentoring young adults does not only lead to technical roles. We have also been very successful in mentoring employees who started out as drafters and moved on to estimators.
I believe mentoring begins during the interview process. It’s important to explain the many career paths within your organization so that employees can see themselves working with your company for many years to come.
Start a program
To start a mentorship program, I recommend contacting your local technical schools through the body repair program director or the admissions/placement office. These schools seek partners to participate in their programs because it helps them with their accreditation process and shows students that their program is valued in the eyes of corporate America. The Collision Repair Education Foundation is also a great way to connect with technical schools if needed.
The bottom line is that a mentorship program is good for business. You don’t need to invest a lot of money to create a successful program, but you do need to volunteer your time and share your knowledge and passion for the industry. Just like in baseball, it takes a good coach to identify players in the farm system, train them, and know when they’ll be ready for the major leagues. Go Rockies!