Operative Talent, a car rebuild fundraising initiative with the goal of addressing the collision industry’s aging workforce by highlighting collision repair as a viable career path, has officially launched. Initially announced by the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), BASF and KTL Restorations during the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meetings at the 2021 SEMA Show, Operative Talent allows for the entire collision industry to get involved.
“Who agrees that we, as an industry, need to get out in front of the general public – including parents and school counselors – to educate them about this industry? And who believes we could do a better job of helping students enter the industry?” asks Brandon Eckenrode, managing director of CREF. “We continually discuss the need for more technicians, estimators and other industry professionals, but instead of just thinking about it and talking about it, we’re going to put some actions behind it which will involve everybody in this industry.”
In collaboration with BASF and KTL Restorations, with support from Hemmings and CarBuff Network, CREF has undertaken a new two-part mission, raising funds (1) to build a public-facing web site to educate them about the variety of career paths in the industry as well as which schools offer collision training, and (2) to develop and promote a national public service campaign showcasing collision career opportunities and generating awareness about the industry.
Through industry participation and collaboration, Operative Talent will succeed in shining a positive spotlight on the collision industry. There are several opportunities for companies to get involved that include monetary sponsorship and/or in-kind donations for the vehicle rebuild. BASF, CREF, and KTL Restorations would like to thank and recognize the commitment from the current project partners, which include: Baer Brake Systems, Dakota Digital, DEI/ Boommat (Design Engineering Inc), Dewitt’s Radiator, Dom Tucci Design, Guniwheel, Indasa, Magnified Productions, SATA by Dan Am, Steele Rubber, Tremec, XS Power Batteries, Ringbrothers, and Spanesi Americas.
The industry has been playing defense too long, and it’s time to go on the offensive. “We’re in a sort of trade war – we’re competing for students against other technical training programs,” Eckenrode offers an analogy. “I don’t want to see us lose or get the leftovers. We should be getting the best of the best, and we do that by showcasing what career paths are available to them, by showing them how attractive the opportunities in collision repair can be.”
Operative Talent will begin with KTL Restorations rebuilding a 1969 Camaro, also named “Talent,” with the build commencing in 2022 and the vehicle being raffled off at SEMA 2023 to raise funds to support the endeavor. “Operative Talent is an amazing project,” BASF’s Tina Nelles shares. “Attracting new talent is important to our company and the entire collision repair industry, so we’ve spent months strategizing about ways to help through offering internships, increasing scholarships, and supporting schools, but the key piece that’s always neglected is outside perception of our industry.”
“We need people talking about this industry in the right ways,” Nelles continued. “By promoting collision repair careers through the website and the PSA campaign, we can ensure that students, as well as their parents, teachers and school counselors, understand the variety of opportunities that exist within this industry.”
Promoting collision careers to the next generation is vital for the industry’s future sustainability, and it’s a matter that Crystal and Kurt Lawrance of KTL Restorations take personally. “We have children, including a 16-year-old daughter who’s currently studying refinishing, and as parents, we care about their future,” Crystal says. “We’re passionate about the next generation, but few show enthusiasm for automotive careers because they know nothing about it. No one is showing them what’s available… Kids are told they must obtain a four-year degree (and accrue college debt) to be successful, yet there are great opportunities for good-paying jobs in the trade!”
Collision repair elicits images of dirty garages and dirtier hands, but in today’s high-tech environment, repairing vehicles requires more skill and training than many realize. Additionally, a plethora of other opportunities exist within the industry, including marketing, human resources, sales and chemistry. “It’s time to spotlight the many available opportunities and drive that knowledge to schools to help educate the future generation about industry careers and find quality talent,” Lawrance stresses. “If we don’t bridge that gap, there will be no one to repair vehicles or create custom cars in the future.”
Lawrance’s dedication to the industry’s future inspired her to contact Nelles who reached out to CREF with the idea for the build. “Usually Brandon calls us with crazy ideas, so it was fun to turn the tables on him,” Nelles joked. “But education is important to the industry, and it’s important to us. Operative Talent is a big project, and I hope this first build is just one of many; however, for this project to successfully bring what we need to collision repair, it’s going to require help from the entire industry.”
The website and PSA campaign will not be branded under any participating party because it’s designed to benefit the entire industry. As such, Eckenrode issued a call to arms directed at all collision and automotive repair professionals: “We need the support of the entire collision community – we need engines from OEMs, parts from suppliers and monetary donations from sponsors, and when raffle ticket sales open, we need help spreading the word to make sure we raise the funds necessary to make this project as successful as it can be. Local collision students and other rebuilders are invited to get involved with the Talent build and any future builds.”
“This is a full industry effort, and each of you can help determine the success of this operative by getting involved to make Operative Talent the best it can be – by raising funds and donating your time and efforts, we can showcase this industry and ensure it has a bright future!”
Industry members can get involved with the Operative Talent project by contacting Eckenrode at 312-231-0258 or Brandon.Eckenrode@ed-foundation.org. The future of this industry needs your help today!
The Collision Repair Education Foundation, founded in 1991, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting collision repair educational programs, schools, and students to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with an array of career opportunities. For information on how to donate to programs supported by the Education Foundation, visit us online at: www.CollisionEducationFoundation.org.
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