Automakers share insights, info on the collision repair training they offer
The wide variation in how automakers make their collision repair training available to the industry was starkly evident at the recent “Repairer Roundtable” held in Seattle, in April and sponsored by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS).
A panel of OEM representatives was asked if a shop needs to be part of the automaker’s shop certification program to send technicians to OEM training. Joe DiDinato, collision training administrator for Toyota, said no.
“We feel that anybody who comes in touch with our vehicle should have the information available to them,” DiDinato said, noting that Toyota has trained an average of 1,000 collision repair technicians per year over the last five years. “Our training is available to independent shops as well as insurance carriers. They can contact us through our website (www.crrtraining.com) to find out more about that.”
But Shawn Hart, a trainer with Audi of America, said his company’s training is available only to those with dealer sponsorship to become part of the Audi shop certification program.
“The way things look to me in the future, there’s too much information to have every shop, or for any one technician, to know about all these different cars,” Hart said. “Shops are going to be specialized. They’re going to have to be. If a shop wants to learn this, they need to look into getting on the program. You’re not going to be able to fix these cars without being on the program.”
Hart did say that Audi is adding a second training facility (in Ontario, Calif.) that will allow it to double the number of technicians it trains each year (which is currently about 300 a year at its Virginia training facility). And like Toyota’s training, he said, Audi’s is available to insurers as well.
“We basically have an open invitation to all the insurance companies that we work with, and Geico, State Farm, Allstate, Nationwide, Farmers all have sent up to eight different people,” he said. “They are treated just like the other students. They work on the car. They cut things. The technicians will usually show them, ‘This is what’s going on when we have to fix these cars.’”
A shop owner asked the panel if, given the cost of sending a technician out of town for a week or more of training, automakers had ever considered offering the training in-shop. This might allow them to reach more technicians (as well as estimators and others in the shop) more cost-effectively for shops. All of the panelists acknowledged that the concept offered some potential benefits, but had logistical as well as other downsides.
“In a perfect world, I’d love to come visit every one of your shops for two weeks and do all the training I need to do, but I’m one person, and there’s only 52 weeks in a year,” Hart said.
He also noted that the Audi training facilities have more than one of the specific welders and other equipment students need to use during the training, whereas most shops typically have only one.
Kelly Logan, technical manager for Tesla Motors, said his company recently opened a training facility in Fremont, Calif., that should allow the automaker to train more than 1,000 technicians a year. He said getting students out of the shop environment also helps improve their focus on the training.
“Sometimes in a shop atmosphere, there’s a lot of distractions. The tech gets pulled away, say, because you need to get a car out,” Logan said.
But Eric Mendoza, collision repair and refinish training assistant manager for Toyota, said the company is well aware of the investment a shop is making in sending a technician away for training.
“We’re working really hard to make sure that when you’re sending your people, it’s for information that is best learned in our shop, using hands-on learning,” he said. “We want the value of sending your guys to far outweigh the cost.”
A number of the automaker representatives said they were working on training materials to help students prepare for the classes and testing, as well as have access to some “refresher” materials once they are back in the shop.
“We have coupons available for our shops to order, and want them to practice, because we want them as prepared as possible when they come to training,” Logan said. “The guys who come not knowing what to expect are the ones we see really struggle.”
Jason Bartanen is the director of industry technical relations for I-CAR, which conducts the Jaguar-specific training for the automaker in the United States. “We’re working with Jaguar-Land Rover to develop some online information to better prepare technicians,” Bartanen said. “It will show them what types of material they will be welding, what the weld specifications are, what machine settings they will need, etc.”
Bartanen said he hopes that effort will improve the pass rate for the Jaguar testing taken by about 300 technicians each year, which he said is “a little higher” in North America than Jaguar’s global pass rate of just 50 percent.
Hart said Audi is also developing brief videos on such topics as how to analyze a carbon fiber component, which a technician could watch before or after the training, as needed.
Panel members also said as vehicle design and materials become more complex, the training and testing requirements are being raised as well. Audi added three more welds to the test, Hart said, including one that is X-rayed. Tesla had nine welds as part of its original training, now it has 19. Bartanen said Jaguar’s new global standard calls for zero defects.
“So one skip or a void [in a weld] and it doesn’t meet the standard,” he said.
How should a shop decide which technicians to send to automaker training? The panelists all had similar responses.
“Based on my experiences, send someone who will take it seriously,” Logan said. “I’ve seen some techs who spend more time on their phone during their welding test and ended up failing.”
Bartanen agreed. “They should have a thirst for knowledge and be there to learn,” he said. “Those are the ones who succeed. It may not be the most seasoned technician. It could a millennial with a thirst for knowledge. Or it might be that seasoned technician who wants to continue to learn more. But it all starts with attitude.”