by Alana Quartuccio
“Empower the youth with skills today, and they will build a better world tomorrow.”
This inspiring message could not be more true when it comes to building the next generation in the collision repair world. And thanks to educational institutions like Chatham, VA’s Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center (PCTC), young people have the opportunity to learn about the trade, but this particular school is taking the educational experience further. Thanks to a partnership with KTL Restorations (Danville, VA), a custom build shop, PCTC students can aspire to take their skills all the way to the finish line with a shot at starting a real career.
PCTC’s auto body program has been a major focal point of the facility since the 1970s, and it is not only still going strong decades later; it has found new ways to grow and mold students into auto body professionals due largely to the partnership.
“While many programs in our local areas have unfortunately shut down, we are essentially one of the last men standing with an operational auto body training facility where we are pushing students through a one-year program,” states Jessica S. Dalton, PCTC principal.
“While they are here learning, we are leading them toward an internship opportunity with KTL Restorations where they are able to experience real life situations and expertise in a whole different light.”
“We’ve made some good headway already in just a little bit of time since we’ve been really pushing this initiative,” boasts Crystal Lawrance of KTL Restorations, who leads the operation with her husband, Kurt Lawrance.
Dalton says working with the KTL team has become a great experience. “As an educator, you want your students close to you, to be able to know what they’re doing and see where they’re going. Crystal and Kurt came and talked to us about who they are and what they are doing. We went out to their facility, met their staff in this building and go in monthly or weekly, depending on the need. It’s created a really strong partnership, where students know Crystal, they know Kurt, they know the team, and now, they want to go to work. They want to get the skill set here at PCTC, but now they also want to get on the floor at KTL and learn in their facility. It’s become a very special partnership, and it’s growing.”
The experiences KTL Restorations is able to give students goes beyond auto body. According to Lawrance, the conversations being had involve all different types of skills the industry would be looking for including the business side, marketing and thensome.
It’s really sparked students’ interest according to Dalton, who says, “Since we’ve increased these conversations, we have doubled the amount of students we recruit into this program, who actively sign up and say, ‘I want to come to PCTC for the training and because I know I’ll have the opportunity to intern at KTL.’”
Witnessing the tech shortage felt far and wide throughout the industry and seeing more vocational schools shut down, Lawrance is inspired to find ways to bring new faces to the industry, and the internship partnership with PCTC is certainly one form. Although many custom build shops may work with their local schools, it’s believed that KTL Restorations is the first custom shop in the US that has been able to form a work-based learning program with a school.
In addition, Lawrance has extended efforts to motivate young people into the fold even further by bringing faces from different parts of the industry together to be one voice for this trade. It’s becoming a reality through the launch of Operative Talent, a charity build she started in collaboration with the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), BASF, Auto Metal Direct and the Petty Family Foundation (Petty’s Garage) to give collision repair interested students a chance to work on a 1969 custom Camaro (named “Talent”) valued at $350,000. The initiative is growing nationally and has since garnered 65 partnerships from coast to coast in support of the mission.
Dalton and the school, along with Lawrance and her team, work together to conduct a screening process for the PCTC internship program as it’s limited to a few students and involves safety checks and other requirements. If she had the ability to do so, Lawrance would intern every interested student. Instead, she’s trying to work with others in the community who can come on board and offer other related experiences, perhaps from the tool or the dealership side, that could allow these students to grow in those areas.
Dalton praises the partnership program with KTL Restoration for allowing the school to keep in touch with the students where they can watch them learn and grow through the education they get, which goes beyond touching the cars.
“They are learning work ethics, work based skills, and soft skills such as how one should talk to their boss or what situations may get them in trouble with their boss,” Dalton reports. “We will talk about these things in school, but Crystal takes it back to her shop where they get to see what those things can look like. There’s a lot of moving parts, and I think it’s created a very successful partnership.”
And success stories are being written!
“I’m proud to say that so far, we have flipped 50 percent of these kids,” Lawrance announces. “The very first one in my door since we went to PCTC, has not left. He’s 18 years old, and he’s back there sandblasting right now. He’s learned to blast and weld, and now he’s learning body work. It’s been less than a year, and I don’t see this kid leaving us.”
When Lawrance sat this student down after the program ended, he admitted he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do but was sure he did not want to leave KTL. “The day we gave him his uniform, he teared up. He’s very proud to wear it. It’s about helping them find where they want to be, and we are willing to help them make the connections to help them get there.”
Dalton says one student was so excited he got into the internship program, he told everyone about it, from the school nurse to the secretaries in the office.
“We are here to help change students’ lives in our local neighborhoods and communities. It gives kids a sense of hope to be able to say they can have a job and a future if they work at it and stick it out.”
Want more? Check out the January 2024 issue of Hammer & Dolly!