Articles,  Collision Repair Education Foundation

Combat the Tech Talent Crisis with CREF

Printed in Autobody News

With the average technician age approaching 50 years old, shops and other collision repair industry businesses are in desperate need of qualified entry-level staff to fill positions as technicians age out. The industry has a major problem, but by supporting the schools that educate future collision repair employees, the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) offers the solution!

CREF is a 503(c)(3) nonprofit organization that facilitates the industry’s generosity by investing in collision repair educational programs around the country, helping equip school shops, and funding student scholarships, among many other endeavors that serve to attract, properly train, and retain more qualified collision professionals. Since 2009, the Foundation has been able to provide over $300 million in support to schools and students through the industry’s donations.

Supporting CREF’s initiatives is a lot easier (and less time-consuming) that industry professionals often realize. Because collision educational programs are frequently underfunded, instructors’ biggest needed are used parts, especially fenders, hoods, and bumper covers – just like the ones discarded by shops every day! Most programs rely on older vehicle parts to train their students; without being able to learn on current model vehicles, students do not receive the educate necessary to become a useful and productive entry-level technician after graduation.

Schools also need updated tools and equipment to ensure students are learning on the same technology they’ll be using at their future shop, and when a shop upgrades, the Foundation can help identify a local school in need. Industry supporters can also promote the industry’s professionalism by sponsoring student uniforms, which include a company logo. Monetary donations help CREF fund school grants and student scholarships, and in addition to donations being tax-deductible, donors can feel confident that their contributions make the desired impact since the Foundation’s lean operations ensure that 90% of all donations are invested back into the schools.

CREF also offers initiatives to help the schools’ shops look more professional, even looking outside the industry for help with initiatives like providing new floors to combat the dungeonlike appearance of many shops. Brandon Eckenrode, director of development for the Foundation, noted, “Limited budgets don’t allow instructors to worry about the shop’s appearance, but to attract the best students, we need to present the best possible image of the collision repair industry and promote the professionalism of this career path. We have to change the public’s mindset about this being a viable career option.”

Instructors have responded very favorably to the industry’s support which helps them better educate their students, but schools are always seeking guest speakers, shop tours, mentors and advisory committee members as well. The Foundation encourages industry professionals to get involved with their local schools to get in front of future industry professionals.

Getting students employed after graduation is another important effort the Foundation has undertaken with the industry’s support. CREF hosts physical and virtual career fairs where they offer interview workshops and resume advice to students, plus this provides a great opportunity to introduce industry employers to recent graduates who are well-trained on current model vehicles using advanced equipment and modern tools, ready to start in your shop!  

When the industry invests in the schools training their future employees, everyone benefits. According to Eckenrode, “There are roughly 1000 collision education programs around the country, and they need the industry’s support to train the professionals that will be working on our vehicles after an accident. We want to make sure students are skilled before they start repairing vehicles, and then we want to get them employed so we can start addressing the industry’s aging workforce issue.”

For information on how to donate to programs supported by the Education Foundation, visit or contact Brandon Eckenrode, Director of Development, at 312-231-0258 or [email protected].  .

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