An Industry Push for an Electrical Technician
Early last year, research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that a misaligned Honda Civic camera led to issues with the vehicle’s lane-departure warning and auto-braking systems.
That’s a far cry from the type of issues vehicles had a decade ago. Going back to the 1970s, the body technician worked on the repair of a vehicle from start to finish, Doug Irish, co-chair for insurer-repairer relations for the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) and department chair for collision repair and refinishing technology at Fayetteville Technical Community College, says. In the last 20 years or so, however, the collision industry has seen a shift toward more specialization in the technician job thanks to technological advancements.
The introduction of computerized systems, crash avoidance systems and electrical components requires someone in the mechanical role to help in the repair process, says Irish. And, he says, the industry has experienced overall longer cycle times as a result of those technological advances, repair costs and subletting that work to outside businesses. For example, according to the 2018 CCC Information Services Crash Course report, for a repair that costs closer to $20,000, a shop could hold the vehicle for as many as 50 days.
Thus, in early April, CIC proposed a new technician definition that would require him or her to know how to repair advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and have skills to read diagnostics in the blueprinting process.
In essence, CIC says the definition should act as a way to get shops thinking about their definition of “technician” and the tasks performed and training needed, particularly when it comes to the role that technology plays in repairs sent down the road because it may mean that, down the line, shop owners will need to hire someone with a different skillset.
Here’s a breakdown of that new definition and what training would be required.
Dissecting the New Definition
Currently, most shops need to sublet any mechanical and computer work to other repair shops or dealerships in the area. By requiring technicians to learn these skills through their college technical programs, apprenticeships or other work, the body shop could potentially reduce cycle time and increase touch time.
The proposed update to the technician definition by CIC raised the question of whether the new role would require shop owners to hire an additional tech to its team and invest upward of $60,000 in doing so, since it could take years for the technician to undergo training in order to perform recalibrations, resets, reprogramming, and pre and post-repair scanning, Irish says.
Irish says with the variety of electrical and diagnostic systems on the market currently, it is now imperative for either a new type of “diagnostic technician” to emerge or for someone else in the body shop—such as a blueprint technician—to take over the new responsibilities.
The Future of Training
Today, skills such as calibrating the car’s radar for cruise control are much more technical and have more liability attached to it, Irish says. Thus, auto body technical programs need to start now with training, he says.
One challenge is the expense of training and the need for technicians to be trained to repair multiple OEM systems.
Irish says his school’s I-CAR training is no longer enough. The students at Fayetteville Technical Community College undergo Honda Professional Automotive Career Training (PACT), which enables technicians to become Honda and Acura certified. Irish only received Honda calibration equipment in April 2018 and still needs to train the instructors before he can get it into the classroom.
Overall, it will take an additional 6–8 weeks to teach an instructor how to use the new equipment, he says, and then another eight months before the school can offer the training to students.
The introduction of the aluminum-body Ford F-150 prompted body shops to invest upward of $60,000 in tools and equipment to work on aluminum repairs, Irish says. The increase of advanced technological systems will also require shops to invest heavily.
“I’m guessing shops would probably spend between $10,000 and $15,000 in equipment,” he says, in terms of investing in calibration tools.
And the training investment would cost about $25,000–$50,000.
“But on the other side, this opportunity provides a chance for a very high revenue stream,” Irish says.
With the right training and equipment, shops will be able to take on the jobs and profit from mechanical work.
Not only does the new technician definition offer the shop potential for increased revenue, the shop can also take over quality control from third parties and eliminate its liability in accidents, Irish says. Electrical issues and calibrations done wrong can lead to someone getting injured or dying, he says.
"Some dealerships are having problems that body shops are having, like finding technicians to fill these roles,” Irish says.
Now, shops can eliminate the chance of being sued for a faulty repair from subletting the work.