Approaching Labor Shortages With a Technology Focus
April 25, 2022—The dynamic nature of collision repair is a worthy adversary, especially because the automotive aftermarket truly feels as though it is constantly changing these days. Understandably, it can be difficult to tell how to plan accordingly.
Keeping up is made even more challenging with the surge of telematics and constant presence of electric vehicles, a phenomenon that is extremely prevalent in today’s climate. In addition, the technician shortage throughout the industry doesn’t make things any easier.
For Michelle Corson, CEO of On the Road companies, the best strategy for staying on top of these changes is by working with them, not against them.
“It presents opportunities for us to go out and recruit people from outside of the industry.” Corson says.
One of the company’s entities is On the Road Garage, which has solidified itself as an embodiment of smart trend anticipation, operating as a collision repair facility with a unique technology-forward focus.
On the Road Garage was established in 2020 with the intention to address relevant vehicle technology repair training and implementation while simultaneously working to mitigate some of the industry’s technician shortage by inspiring new talent.
Combining these efforts with a tech-focused approach allows On the Road Garage to better serve its customers and, ultimately, its employees in equipping them for what could prove to be a technology-heavy career in collision repair.
“It used to be that, if you could turn a wrench, you could fix a car.” Corson says. “The cars today are software. They are much more software than they are hardware.”
Corson understands that, although the labor shortage is not a new concept by any means, the way that collision repair intends to approach it going forward is crucial. Properly attacking the issue requires an acknowledgement of technology that goes behind just recognizing that electric vehicles and ADAS features are present.
“Today, there are computers on every element within the car,” Corson explains. “If one of those things goes haywire for whatever reason or requires some support or re-programming, it can effectively make the car useless.
“These systems, if they’re not calibrated after an accident, can actually cause accidents.” Corson continues. “Lane keeping, distance guidance…can cause people to get into accidents if not properly taken care of.”
In order to be able to address these elements for a customer, technicians must have the education and the motivation to do so. Corson explains that this is important to keep in mind from the get-go.
One of the ways that they approach this is by going straight to a younger audience. On the Road Garage offers pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs for recruits, meaning that On the Road’s investment in an individual could start as early as high school.
These are pools of people who have been born into and have grown up with technology. It’s not a mindset shift for them. It is, however, important for shops to work towards a similar open-minded perspective.
“I don’t think that shops that are not focused on technology can actually really survive long term to be quite honest.” Corson says.
At the same time, Corson acknowledges that vehicle technology and electric vehicles in general can add a component of uncertainty to shops as well.
“There are a lot of considerations for shop owners in working on electric vehicles.” Corson says. “They are dangerous for your staff–your technicians–and so there are safety considerations that you have to be mindful of.”
That is all the more reason for being prepared, and all the more reason to have confidence in who you are hiring, starting with what they can bring to the table.
Corson suggests looking outside of the immediate industry for potential talent as well. On the Road has a unique interest in the field of mechatronics, which involves electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science.
This is definitely a field that makes sense in relation to collision repair, especially considering the prevalence of big tech companies making moves to join the automotive industry.
“I always use the analogy of: when Apple Computers is going into the car business, we know that we’ve turned a corner.” Corson says.
Going beyond that, she sees an opportunity for incorporating insight from more artisanal interests as well, stating that she has come to admire the artistic elements of collision repair.
“One of the things that we are trying to do is to create an artist-in-residence program to recruit people who are into the arts, particularly metal sculptures to come on board and learn,” Corson says. “They can become an apprentice with a body tech and work on their artistic craft on the weekends. We’ve got really great facilities for that.”
What it all comes down to is a willingness to seek out untapped talent, and having an intention to incorporate more of a technology-focus into the workflow of a shop. This has been On the Road Garage’s game plan all along, and Corson is confident that it will continue to be a strong guiding force for recruitment going forward.
She believes that navigating the future challenges of this industry are worth it when you have the right people on board.
“We’re really investing in them and they feel it and they know it.” Corson says. “What we’ve got here has got a very very different culture than just about anywhere else.”