Collision's training crisis


A skilled person welding in a workshop, creating sparks as they work

Are you neglecting to train your staff?

A nationwide survey that found 42 per cent of collision repair shops in Australia have not provided any training for their technicians in the last 12 months has sparked concern in the industry.

About 20 per cent of the collision industry— not including major players like AMA group, MotorOne and Repairhub—took part in the Australasian Paint and Panel Collision Repair Industry Census, making it an authoritative snapshot of what’s happening at smaller and mid-sized workshops across the country.

Jason Trewin, Chief Operating Officer of Capricorn Preferred Supplier I-CAR—a recognised provider of collision training in Australia, New Zealand and Canada—said the underinvestment in training was worrying.

“To be honest, it’s frightening because as we move forward, technology is going ahead in leaps and bounds and it’s hard to understand that the business could potentially be repairing a modern-day motor vehicle without upskilling their technicians so they can provide safe and quality repairs for their customers,” he said.

Jason said with the pace of change in the industry, it was recommended collision repair technicians undertake at least eight to sixteen hours of training per year.

“That can be online service training, web-based training, or hands-on skills assessment type training,” he said.

While the Australasian Paint and Panel survey didn’t ask the industry why they weren’t investing in training, Jason suggested it was likely to be a combination of time and money. The survey found a whopping 68 per cent of collision shops were understaffed and 51 per cent are looking for panel technicians—so being able to give existing staff time off for paid training was likely to be difficult.

However, he urged collision shop owners and managers to consider the real costs of scrimping on training. Not keeping up with advances and updates to technology like ADAS systems can cost a workshop jobs due to the inability to complete a repair. It can also cost a business time and money, as technicians take longer to work out how to complete a repair for which they are not trained.

“You have to work out at what point you’re damaging your business,” Jason said.

“If you take yourself away from training for 12 to 18 months, or even two years, things are going to leapfrog you pretty fast, I think.

“You’re really starting behind the eight ball, because we have so many different brands, makes and models in our country and it’s a real challenge to understand these things on every car.”

Jason also warned about a knock-on effect on a workshop’s culture.

“As human beings and individuals, when someone gives us the time of day or invests in us more than just in monetary terms, it creates a sense of self-worth,” he said. “When you’re properly trained, it makes the job that little bit easier, it takes away the task burden a little bit, and makes you a little bit happier.”

“So having a little bit of training, more frequently, really goes a long way for staff retention.”

Staff retention is a major issue for all sections of the aftermarket, but especially collision repair workshops. The State of the Nation Special Report: The Skills Shortage found it’s taking an average of 9.1 months to find a panel beater, 8.9 months to find a spray painter, 7.3 months for crash repair assemblers, and 9.4 months for estimators. It also found collision shops were the most likely part of the aftermarket to struggle to retain apprentices, with 71 per cent of respondents saying they’d lost an apprentice before the completion of the apprenticeship.

Jason said training was also an opportunity to make team members more useful and productive. He said many workshops were now sending their staff to I-CAR to gain the skills they need to migrate between roles in the business. The skills shortage has also changed the way I-CAR delivers its training.

“We’ve got a lot more short, topic-focused courses now, of 45 minutes to an hour,” Jason said. “Our classroom courses we now also offer virtually, to try to eliminate the time training is taking someone out of the business. We often do those after-hours. So, we try to offer a little bit of flexibility.”

I-CAR provides post-qualification skills enhancement, education, training and information to the collision industry, including professional development programs, hands-on skills development and trade certifications.

Jason recommended workshop owners keep up to date with “a little bit of training, a lot of the time”.

“I think keeping up to date will shorten that gap between the knowledge and our guesswork,” he said. “I think if workshops do that, we’ll be much better off as an industry.”

Collision training resources

  • Capricorn Service Data also contains a number of collision repair-based resources. Log in to myCAP and visit the Capricorn Service Data tab on the homepage to learn more.

  • In Australia, I-CAR is a Capricorn Preferred Supplier. To view their range of collision repair training and courses, visit i-car.com.au.

This article was published 21/12/2023 and the content is current as at the date of publication.