by Alana Quartuccio
Inspiring and preparing the next generation of collision repairers is crucial to the future of the industry. There is just not enough new blood picking up tools and paint guns compared to the amount of work there is on shop floors all around the country.
Thankfully, there are passionate and dedicated educators around who expose young people to the rewarding world of collision repair like the team at the Center of Applied Technology North (CAT North) in Severn, MD.
The school offers a two-year high school level program designed to introduce students to the different areas of collision repair, allowing them to get a feel for what they may excel in the most, according to Automotive Refinishing Instructor Amanda Levine.
“We break it down into two sets of students,” she explains. “We can have up to 16 students in each class so upwards of 32 students at most. The students start off in either collision or refinish. After one marking period, the students will switch to the class they were not in initially. So, if they start in collision, their second marking period will be in refinish and vice versa. After the first half of their first year, they get to decide if they like body work or painting more, and most of the time, we are able to accommodate all of the students to place them in their preferred class. From there, we begin to focus on what work they would be doing in the shops. We also all work together to teach students the estimating portion they would have to deal with in the shops.”
The educational facility is considered a “feeder school,” taking students from different high schools in the county who are bussed to their facility.
Now that COVID and virtual teaching is in the rearview mirror, Levine is seeing an uptick in enrollment of first-year students and is confident that the program is on its way back to normal.
CAT North wants to make sure students have the opportunity to learn about their collision repair program and will do as much outreach as they can to make it known. They work with local body shops in a number of ways, so students can learn more about the profession beyond the classroom. Levine has had shop owners come in to share experiences and explain their apprenticeship program. They have hosted field trips to nearby shops. “We do this typically at level one so students are able to see what a shop environment is actually like since there is a difference between education and work environments.”
An apprenticeship program is being developed by the Department of Education that would be open to the entire county, and the school is working to get involved with that as well.
CAT North reaches out to local middle schools to make younger students aware of the many opportunities they offer. They stay active with the community by hosting a car show each fall and doing events with other organizations.
Keeping up with supplies can be challenging as expenses continue to rise. As the host location for the Maryland SkillsUSA competition, CAT North receives donations of leftover products including body panels which Levine implies is a huge help. Paint supply costs are increasing. Levine reports her paint line went up nine percent last quarter and six percent this quarter. Items such as body panels can be sand stripped and reused, but paint can’t be repurposed once it’s mixed or sprayed.
CAT North works hard to prepare the students for the outside world in this profession but unfortunately there are some “hiccups” up-and-coming technicians are likely to encounter along the way, insufficient pay being one of them. Levine says the pay structure has not kept up with the times. Too many students have found themselves working in body shops for minimum wage after graduation while many other trades tend to start young people off with higher wages.
Levine strongly believes that it takes people in the industry to join hands to help make it better for everyone. Being an active member of WMABA opens the door to connections the school would not have access to otherwise.
“It goes back to the old saying ‘it takes a village.’ If people in this industry want good technicians to come and work for them, the only way it can happen is if we all work together to educate and develop these young technicians,” stresses Levine.
The shops who participate with their local schools are most likely the better shops to work for, Levine suggests.
“I think they have grasped the concept of what it takes to bring up good technicians, and they know that it takes a team of people to do so.”
Want more? Check out the May 2023 issue of Hammer & Dolly!