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Collision repair shops applaud new program gearing up at Okanagan College
Okanagan College Media Release

Todd RegierA new model for teaching auto collision repair at Okanagan College is getting a green light from the industry, even before classes rev up this fall.

“The apprentices are going to come out better qualified right off the bat,” said Tom Watters, manager of Craftsman Collision in Kelowna.

The revamped 41-week Collision Repair Technician certificate program, which launches this September, means students will receive significantly more classroom and shop time prior to getting out into industry shops to complete their apprentice hours.

The program provides theoretical and practical experience in all three levels of the Collision Repair apprenticeship with training supplemented by the latest industry accepted curriculum, known as I-CAR. Students are trained in all aspects of the trade including panel repair and replacement, plastics and composites repair, scan tool diagnostics, hands-on experience with structural repair of late model vehicles, and time management techniques.

Shifting gears in this way means employers won’t have to free up as much time for apprentices to return to school – something Watters and others like Todd Regier, co-owner of Prestige Collision, often struggle with.

“We can’t afford to lose our apprentices for those five to six weeks that first year. The margins are too tight,” said Regier, who completed his own training in Collision Repair at the College nearly a decade ago.

Jeff Francis, chair of the Collision Repair department at Okanagan College, conducted research with more than 30 repair shops around the province after noticing a drop in the return of apprentices for their level two and three training. The problem was so bad that in some cases there weren’t enough students to warrant a class.

As Francis spoke with more and more employers, a pattern emerged.

Employers saw students who needed more shop time experience. Releasing them for training only reduced that, while at the same time made it difficult to find replacements. To combat the problem, employers kept students on, and sometimes increased wages as an incentive.

“It’s an especially difficult problem for employers in places like Chetwynd or Prince Rupert. To have a tech leave for five to six weeks makes a real impact,” Francis said.

All these factors lead many apprentices to leapfrog over the level two and three training, rack up workplace hours, and then challenge their Red Seal exam.

Meanwhile, employers continued to call the College in what has increasingly become an almost futile attempt to find apprentices with Level two and three training.

“There is no question the landscape of the industry has changed dramatically over the last decade,” Francis said. “Vehicles have become increasingly more complex, requiring technicians to have a more comprehensive knowledge base than ever before. This program provides a great foundation for a future technician to grow upon.”

The revised program also guarantees there will be classroom time available for those few apprentices already in the system who are able to leave their workplace for study.

“Now if even only two or three students are ready to do their schooling, we can take them in by dovetailing them into the appropriate part of the program,” Francis said.

The new program is already attracting enthusiastic students.

George Polychroniou has been tinkering around with Subarus for years. He started working in a friend’s small shop in Oliver a few years ago, helping with paint jobs and other minor repairs.

“I wanted to broaden my horizon, so this seemed like a good idea,” said the 23-year-old who starts the program in September. “I’m thinking about pursuing a career with ICBC, but we’ll see.”

The Industry Training Authority (ITA) will provide students who complete the program with credit towards all three levels of their Automotive Collision Repair apprenticeship.