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  Guest Editorial

Study Highlights Positive Trends and Cautions for Technicians

Posted 09/10/2004
By Russell Thrall III

You may have noticed that in July, I moved on from the editor in chief position I held at Automotive Body Repair News (ABRN) since June 2000. A few short days later, my new position as technical services manager for the I-CAR Education Foundation was announced. I'm excited about the opportunity to work at the foundation and return to my roots on the technical side of the collision repair business. I grew up in the collision repair industry and spent several years as a technician before my first tour with ABRN in the early 1990s. In fact, I originally met the folks at ABRN through my work administering local I-CAR classes in Pennsylvania.

While many of you are familiar with the training I-CAR provides to individuals already employed in the industry, the education foundation's work developing pre-employment training is relatively less well known. For many of us, pre-employment training took place long before 1991, when the foundation was established.

In early August, Ron Ray, executive director of the education foundation, presented the results of our most recent Snapshot of the Collision Industry survey that details many key facts regarding the technicians employed in our trade. The survey has been conducted every three years since 1995 and provides important information, such as the average age of technicians, average pay and the percentage of turnover in employment as well as "turnout" - those who have left the industry or retired.

This year's study, when combined with the previous 10 years' results, shows some positive trends for technicians, such as an increase in benefits and average pay. Improvements in these categories make the industry more attractive to young people considering possible career paths. Another positive sign for the long-term health of the industry is the growing percentage of technicians who received pre-employment technical training at the high school or college level. This type of pre-employment training produces a higher skilled, more productive and hence more profitable entry-level employee.

However, this year's study also indicated some nagging concerns for repair facility operators. The average age of our technicians currently stands at 37.8 years and has risen steadily since 1995. The percentage of technicians in the younger age groups has declined, while middle and older groups have held steady. If this trend continues, collision repair facilities will find it difficult - if not impossible - in the near future to find qualified, entry-level technicians to replace those who will leave the industry through retirement and career changes.

Needless to say, these facts played a large role in my decision to join the staff of I-CAR's education foundation. I hope they also serve as a reminder of the important role you play as an employer in the recruitment of young people to the trade. With your service and involvement on high school and college-level technical school advisory committees, and support for their internship and mentoring programs, we can show young people the increasing value of a career in our industry.

Tony MollaRussell Thrall III is the technical services manager for the I-CAR Education Foundation, which was founded in 1991 to address the serious shortage of quality, entry-level employees in the collision repair industry. The foundation provides advanced curriculum, instructor training research and related services to career and technical education. Previously, he was editor in chief of Automotive Body Repair News.

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