In an effort to create a series of public service announcements to educate the public on the benefits of becoming a technician in the auto body industry, The Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), in partnership with several corporate and individual sponsors, is launching a unique fundraising initiative.
Operative Talent is a car rebuild fundraiser initially announced by CREF, BASF and KTL Restorations during the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meetings at the 2021 SEMA Show. Since the fundraiser’s launch, businesses and individuals in the industry have stepped up to provide parts for the rebuild, economic support and other resources
“(Operative Talent) really has allowed for the entire collision industry to get involved,” says Brandon Eckenrode, CREF’s managing director. “Our industry needs to find ways to inform the general public – including parents and school counselors – about the incredible opportunities in collision repair. We continually discuss the need for more technicians, estimators and other industry professionals, but instead of just thinking about it and talking about it, we’re going to put some actions behind it which will involve everybody in this industry.”
On a Mission
The first part of CREF’s initiative is to raise funds to build a public-facing web site to educate them about the variety of career paths in the industry, as well as which schools offer collision training.To help reach that goal, KTL Restorations will completely rebuild a 1969 Camaro, also named “Talent,” with the build starting this year and the vehicle being raffled off at SEMA 2023 to raise funds to support the endeavor. The business hopes to rotate young tech students from area schools to help rebuild the Camaro under the supervision of their trained staff.
Promoting collision careers to the next generation is vital for the industry’s future sustainability, and it’s a matter that KTL’s Crystal and Kurt Lawrance take personally.
“We have children, including a 16-year-old daughter who’s currently studying refinishing, and as parents, we care about their future,” Crystal says. “We’re passionate about the next generation, but few show enthusiasm for automotive careers because they know nothing about it. No one is showing them what’s available.”
The second part of CREF’s mission is to develop and promote a national public service campaign showcasing collision career opportunities and generating awareness about the industry. The scope of the PSA campaign will depend on how much money is raised by the raffle and financial donations from members of the industry.
“We’re in a sort of trade war – we’re competing for students against other technical training programs,” Eckenrode says. “I don’t want to see us lose or get the leftovers. We should be getting the best of the best, and we do that by showcasing what career paths are available to them, by showing them how attractive the opportunities in collision repair can be.”
Eckenrode stresses the initiative can’t succeed without the full backing of the collision repair industry, and notes there are several opportunities for companies and individuals to get involved that include monetary sponsorship and/or in-kind donations for the vehicle rebuild.
There has already been a wave of support from companies like Baer Brake Systems, Dakota Digital, DEI/ Boommat (Design Engineering Inc), Dewitt’s Radiator, Dom Tucci Design, Guniwheel, Indasa, Magnified Productions, SATA by Dan Am, Steele Rubber, Tremec, XS Power Batteries, Ringbrothers, and Spanesi Americas. Eckenrode says he’s getting new inquiries on a regular basis from more businesses and individuals, including Mike Anderson, who want to support the cause.
“The more support we can get from our industry partners, whether corporate or individual, the farther we’ll be able to go in terms of creating a stellar PSA campaign,” Eckenrode says.
Overcoming Long-Held Stigmas
BASF’s Tina Nelles says her company is excited to be a part of the initiative because without a new influx of talent, the industry will never overcome its labor shortage.
“Attracting new talent is important to our company and the entire collision repair industry, so we’ve spent months strategizing about ways to help through offering internships, increasing scholarships, and supporting schools, but the key piece that’s always neglected is outside perception of our industry.”
She adds that it’s important to educate those outside the collision repair industry on how much advancements in automotive technology have changed what many still view as a low paying, dirty hands career.
“We need people talking about this industry in the right ways,” Nelles adds. “By promoting collision repair careers through the website and the PSA campaign, we can ensure that students, as well as their parents, teachers and school counselors, understand the variety of opportunities that exist within this industry.”
Crystal Lawrence says there are also a plethora of other opportunities that exist in the industry, including marketing, human resources, sales and chemistry.
“It’s time to spotlight the many available opportunities and drive that knowledge to schools to help educate the future generation about industry careers and find quality talent,” she stresses. “If we don’t bridge that gap, there will be no one to repair vehicles or create custom cars in the future.”
Crystal’s dedication to the industry’s future inspired her to contact Nelles, who reached out to CREF with the idea for the build.
“Usually Brandon calls us with crazy ideas, so it was fun to turn the tables on him,” Nelles says “But education is important to the industry, and it’s important to us. ‘Operative Talent’ is a big project, and I hope this first build is just one of many; however, for this project to successfully bring what we need to collision repair, it’s going to require help from the entire industry.”
Eckenrode says the website and PSA campaign won’t be branded under any participating party because it’s designed to benefit the entire industry. As such,he stresses there is still a need for more support.
“We need engines from OEMs, parts from suppliers and monetary donations from sponsors, and now that raffle ticket sales have opened, we need help spreading the word to make sure we raise the funds necessary to make this project as successful as it can be. Local collision students and other rebuilders are invited to get involved with the ‘Talent’ build and any future builds.”
Industry members can get involved with the Operative Talent project by contacting Eckenrode at 312-231-0258 or email him at [email protected]
The car will be rebuilt at KTL Restorations, located in Danville, Virginia. Raffle tickets are available for purchase on CREF’s website, and will be available for purchase from now until SEMA 2023.