Pikes Peak Community College adds I-CAR certification to collision program

Colorado Springs, Colo.—In a move to increase students’ employability, Ralph Mills, collision program department chair for Pikes Peak Community College, aligned a portion of his curriculum with I-CAR earlier this year.

High school and college students now have the ability to enroll in the new I-CAR Professional Development Program-Education Edition (PDP-EE), Mills said, earning I-CAR certifications in nonstructural repair and refinishing upon graduation.

“It’s something we’re all excited about,” said Mills, who, along with Wade Knight and Dave Greenberg, instruct a combined 75 high school and post-secondary students in the NATEF-accredited program.

The cornerstone of the PDP-EE program is hands-on learning, the I-CAR website states, with only 30 percent of instruction in the classroom and 70 percent in the shop. That is a departure from the past, which included a large portion of classroom instruction.

“This approach makes learning more engaging for students and instructors alike,” an I-CAR press release says. “It also enables students to graduate with a proven ability to properly complete repairs in their chosen role.”

Fourteen prerequisite I-CAR courses — an introduction to collision — are offered online, Mills said; then a student can progress through ProLevel 1, 2, and 3 course levels in either nonstructural repair or refinishing, or both.  “These courses have been integrated into our existing curriculum,” he added.

Many students enrolled in the 71-credit hour, two-year applied science degree program have chosen to go back and take the I-CAR courses in order to earn certifications, Mills said, pointing out that they’re much less expensive for Pikes Peak students, when compared to paying for them on their own.

The collision program’s advisory board, which includes body shop owners, paint suppliers, and insurance company personnel, fully endorsed the I-CAR PDP-EE program when the idea was presented at a meeting last spring, Mills said.

The internships for nonstructural body repair and refinishing align with the program’s curriculum, he said, making the students’ 80 hours of required internship time for a two-year degree more productive.

Many students perform their two internships at Caliber Collision or Phil Long’s collision center on Sinton Road, he said. “A lot of times these interns turn into full-time employees,” he added.

The advisory board also helps “tremendously” with updating the curriculum, he said, since board members work in the industry and are faced with the challenges of repairing new technology found in late-model vehicles every day.

For example, after it was learned that the majority of shops have abandoned wet sanding for dry, Mills said, Pikes Peak students are now taught dry sanding methods, a more environmentally friendly method in which paint dust is vacuumed instead of ending up in the shop drain.  

“The biggest thing is we wanted to make sure we’re instructing students properly,” Mills said, citing the many repair procedures that frequently change with new vehicle technology. Additional instructor training occurs through suppliers, such as FinishMaster, he said, with instructors having most recently completed an R-M Diamont certification.

“The biggest challenge is to bridge the gap between the school and industry,” said Mills, who came from a collision repair shop that was always struggling to find competent technicians.

“The students don’t fully understand the speed required to work in a body shop,” Mills said, pointing out that a school’s shop doesn’t operate under normal business time constraints.  “Once they get their hands dirty in the field, they usually step up their game.”  

Recognizing that a student can gain only so much understanding of the industry while in school, Mills said it’s his goal to produce a good entry-level technician. Students are exposed to advanced portions of the repair, such as structural, to gain a better understanding.

Like any production shop, the school must have the materials, tools, and equipment to work on cars, Mills said, which can present challenges when trying to stay up to date on the latest software and subscriptions.    

One cutting-edge tool that assists students in learning how to spray refinishing products is a virtual-reality SimSpray system.

A visor covers the students’ eyes and enables them to virtually spray a panel hanging in a paint booth, he said.  “It tells you where you spray heavy or light, or if you have the gun too close. This saves the school money on materials and is environmentally friendly, too.”

For the real refinishing application, students spray BASF’s R-M Onyx HD waterborne and Limco solvent, he said, supplied through FinishMaster.

When seeking out new equipment, tools, or teaching aids, Mills said he applies for Perkins grants. Items on the horizon include new waterborne paint guns, PDR tools, and a spot welder.  Since the school hosts SkillsUSA competitions, suppliers often leave supplies and panels after the events that are used throughout the year by students.

The school’s affiliation with NATEF also results in donated materials, Wade Knight said, through the I-CAR Education Foundation.

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