Growing need for new type of collision industry technician
Westminster, Colo.—The Automotive Service Association’s “Collision Division Operations Committee” has defined a new category of technicians increasingly needed at body shops.
Speaking at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) held in Denver in mid-April, Roy Schnepper of Butler’s Collision in Roseville, Mich., said the committee’s definition of an “advanced driver assist and safety system technician” grew out of discussions about vehicle scanning in which insurers have suggested to shops, “Well, can’t the porter do that? It’s just hooking up the tool, and it gives you information.”
But Schnepper pointed to an example in his shop of a Toyota Highlander that wouldn’t start after the battery was recharged following repairs.
“Reading through repair procedures about what may be causing this, and hooking a scan tool up to it, was about a 45-minute to an hour procedure, just to get enough information to figure out that the passive alarm system had kicked in,” Schnepper said.
That’s why any technician doing such work, according to the ASA-drafted definition, needs to be “skilled in computer functions, advanced diagnostic equipment, and new vehicle technologies; [to be] knowledgeable in OEM repair procedures; and [to have] mechanical aptitude and qualifications with a primary focus on supplemental restraint systems (SRS) and advanced driver assistant systems (ADAS).”
Darrell Amberson of LaMettry’s Collision, a Minnesota-based MSO, another member of the ASA Collision Division Operations Committee, said the work this type of technician does might need to fall into a new labor category in the estimating systems, particularly given its role in restoring vehicle safety. Think about just the clips and trim pieces that might be involved in replacing a side impact airbag, Amberson suggested.
“When I picture this thing going off next to my face or head, and some of these clips coming at me, I want to make certain that the technician that put this together was of the highest competence and ability,” Amberson said.
Amberson said his company is increasing its number of ADAS technicians. He said some LaMettry’s locations have a mechanical technician in-house that performs the pre- and post-repair scans the company does on every vehicle; at other locations, a daily list is made of the needed scans and a technician from another LaMettry’s location comes in to conduct them. He said the need for such scans even on relatively minor jobs hit home when a 2017 Ford F-150 was in for hail repair.
“We removed and reinstalled the headliner, and afterward, the electronic power steering didn’t work,” Amberson said. “It was because we had disconnected some components from the back of the vehicle that caused a couple of modules to stop talking to each other. We were able to fix it with a scan tool, and reorient those modules to start talking to each other, but this was just a basic hail job.”
He said his company is “becoming more and more reliant” on such technicians and is doing its best “to replicate those skills and grow more of them.” He sees the position of ADAS technicians as a great opportunity for those coming into the industry.
“If you’re so inclined to work with electronics and computers, and have some mechanical aptitude, my gosh, the demand for you is soon going to be such that you can write your own ticket,” Amberson said. “The possibilities are incredible.”
He said his company wants to perform more of this work in-house, rather than subletting it out, because he views it as becoming an increasing percentage of the shop’s work load and sales.
“Right now, the slice of average severity that’s traditional mechanical work, if you include electronics, is about this big,” Amberson said at CIC, holding up two fingers to indicate a small portion. “But that’s just going to continue to grow. I have this fear of subletting out 25 percent of a job, or 50 percent of a job, or something like that. I see the opportunity there to develop a new profit center within our own company to address these sorts of things.”
Amberson said some shops may underestimate their ability to keep such a new type of technician busy in their business.
“I often have people tell me, ‘Well, my shop is not that big; I just can’t justify a person to work on this sort of thing,’” Amberson said. “But one of the things we are learning is that when you start scanning every car, and get into a lot of these calibration operations, all of a sudden you find that even a shop with maybe four or five body techs can keep this type of person busy all the time.”
Others at CIC agreed with Amberson’s assessment of the growing need for ADAS technicians in collision repair businesses.
“There’s going to be a time, probably even right now, where that technician you’re talking about is going to be the most important technician in your shop,” Kye Yeung, of European Motor Car Works in Santa Ana, Calif., said. “It is our duty to ensure when we hand the keys back to the customer, that it’s repaired to the best of our ability.”
Jake Rodenroth of Collision Diagnostic Services said the ADAS technician role may even be best filled by two people, someone with a collision repair background working with someone with mechanical aptitude. Traditional mechanics, he said, may lack some of the awareness of the nuances collision damage can play, such as understanding the variables brought by parts replacement.
“If he’s telling me the forward collision radar is off by three degrees, and it’s mounted to the rebar, is that a factory rebar?” Rodenroth cited as an example. “Those little variables aren’t really discussed in the OEM manual, but certainly play a role in the overall calibration of the systems.”
Stacy Bartnik of ITW Evercoat said it will be critical for the industry to communicate the need for these new types of technicians to the schools.
“Because if we have instructors or schools that don’t address any of this in the curriculum, it’s never going to get out there, and we aren’t going to get the trained entry-level employees,” Bartnik said. “It’s got to start by educating the schools and instructors about what we need if we want those employees in our shops in the future.”