Steve Garrett is an instructor of automotive collision technology at Indian Hills Community College (http://www.ihcc.cc.ia.us) in Iowa. He discussed the field with the editors of Careers in Focus: Automotives.
Q. Tell us about your college's program and your background.
A. The Indian Hills Community College Automotive Collision Technology program is an 18-month, six-term program that covers such topics as air-conditioning, welding, sheet metal fundamentals, application of fillers, detailing, glass, mechanical repairs, frame and unibody damage analysis, plastic repair, steering/ suspension, estimating, and refinishing--from introduction to advanced. Successfully completing these courses along with related arts and sciences courses will reward a graduate with an associate of applied science degree.
As for my background, I was exposed to the auto body business at an early age through friends of my dad. I was fascinated with the ability to make a beat-up vehicle look new again. In high school I took an introductory class in auto body during my junior year and a half-day vocational class in my senior year. The next step was to enroll in the auto body program at Indian Hills, which was a one-year diploma program at that time.
Eventually I went to work at a high production collision repair shop in Kansas City, then a General Motors dealership body shop. At that point I decided it was time to try making a living on my own. After about four years, the dealership that I had worked for offered me the manager's position. That was a very valuable experience and during that time I strengthened my relationship with Indian Hills, which led to the opportunity to become an instructor.
Q. What is one thing that young people may not know about a career in automotive collision repair technology?
A. Because of the continual changes in vehicle systems and construction methods, ongoing training is required. Many employers encourage their technicians to participate in industry training courses by offering bonuses and advancement based on their achievements.
Q. What made you want to become an automotive collision repair technology teacher?
A. When I started in this career I had no intention of being an instructor. Through involvement with the Indian Hills Community College advisory committee for auto collision, I realized a desire to pass on this skill. I also felt it was a good direction to advance my career.
Q. What advice would you offer automotive collision repair technology majors as they graduate and look for jobs?
A. First of all, I would advise you to pursue an education at a reputable vo-tech college where you could improve your skills and receive a degree and credits, although many high schools offer top-quality courses that may be sufficient for employment. Hopefully, by the time you graduate, you have decided that this is the career that you desire. If so, be sure to maintain a passion for this business, be critical of yourself in the quality of work you do, and present yourself as the professional you are.
Q. What are the most important personal and professional qualities for teachers?
A. As a teacher in this field of study, it takes a person with very good communication skills and patience. Also, involvement in community activities is important, as well as a good relationship with other industry professionals.
Q. What are the most important personal and professional qualities for automotive collision repair technology majors?
A. Intelligence, like most professions, is a necessary quality. Patience (do you like intricate work?) and an artistic ability are very helpful because shaping body filler is basically sculpting. In addition, repair technicians need to be physically fit.
Q. What is the employment outlook in the field?
A. Career opportunities in automotive collision repair are very good compared to similar skilled trades although an aspiring auto body technician needs to be educated properly in the repair business. I wouldn't say that there is a shortage of technicians, but there is a need for qualified techs.