Finding Fresh Talent

by Kevin Gallerani, AASP/MA President

There’s a lot of gray hair in shops these days. Not exactly surprising since the average age of auto body technicians has been creeping up for years. That’s partially because Baby Boomers aren’t retiring as soon as expected, but that’s not the only cause. A lot of shops don’t have any employees under 40! 

What’s going to happen when those older guys DO decide to retire? We’re all going to need to know where to find new employees to replace them. But it’s not something we should wait to think about because all those guys we’re going to lose are our experienced technicians and estimators – and let’s face it, there are a whole bunch of collision repair professionals near or even past the normal age of retirement! So, we need to find that fresh talent NOW to give them time to learn with our older crew before we lose all that knowledge and expertise. 

I know we’ve been talking about the technician shortage for a long time, but I think we sometimes focus on the stress of it all and forget that we actually have some opportunities if we just take advantage of them.

First off, college is ridiculously expensive these days, and a lot of kids in the up-and-coming generation don’t want to sign on for that kind of debt; many of these high school students have watched their parents struggle to repay college loans, so their interest is swinging back toward the trades where they can make a good living without accruing all that debt. But they are also a different generation, so they think and operate differently than we do. We have to try to understand them if we’re going to hire and retain them. 

Shops that invest in advanced technology – ADAS calibrations, EVs, etc. – are going to have an advantage when it comes to attracting younger technicians. They grew up with cell phones and tablets in their hands; they’re into technology and can probably dance circles around some of the older guys in the field when it comes to learning a new system. That also means they’re interested in training and learning new things, and while that can be a great attribute, it can also present challenges because they are a generation that is accustomed to instant gratification. They want to move up the ladder, and they want to do it fast. As shop owners, managers and mentors, we have to find the balance between helping them advance their skills and convincing them to slow down, learn, make and correct mistakes so they can master those skills. 

Wondering where to find these young industry professionals in the first place? You’ve got to get involved by attending schools’ advisory committee meetings and getting to know the students. Of course, this doesn’t always mean getting new employees who are ready to hit the shop floor running. Some will be ready for the job, and others will need work, but investing the time and energy into helping them grow now (and treating them right so they stay!) will ensure you have those qualified employees when  you need them most. 

A couple of  great organizations that are engaging with collision students and future technicians on a larger scale include the Collision Repair Education Foundation ( and TechForce Foundation (, and supporting their efforts is another great way to make sure you’re doing something productive to generate fresh talent in our shops. 

So, what are you doing? Sitting around complaining doesn’t count, so if you don’t already have a plan in action, take another look at my recommendations above – build your bench now!

Want more? Check out the February 2024 issue of New England Automotive Report!