Whilst it is true body shops use considerable artistic skills to help restore a damaged vehicle to the point it looks perfect after the restoration process, ‘art’ is not the only skill. The basics of a body shop are people who can take things apart without damaging parts not affected by the collision (a necessary process in order to access the damaged area), people who can surgically remove or repair damaged metal, people who can cover unprotected metal with refinishing systems as well as match the colour of the undamaged body, and finally, people who rebuild the vehicle and ensure all systems work perfectly.
Without that group of skills, we do not have a body shop
So, what is the issue with the word ‘artisan’? Well, it is a term designed to cover trades which although skilled have evolved very slowly, usually over a number of centuries. In the broader sense, the term ‘artisan’ can indicate a highly skilled but essentially repetitive job. It is, quite simply, a device to show some jobs are more important to the economy than others. Regardless of political persuasion, such thinking is completely wrong.
Why get hung up on a name? The term caps the aspiration and scope of the skill. For example, a master builder will have all the skills necessary to tackle any job in construction, modification or maintenance of a building, yet a plasterer should think twice about taking on a commission to build a new house without investment in appropriate additional education. Both, however, can be considered to be ‘artisans’, even though the capability of each is defined by the level of acquired skill.
Why does this matter?
The lack of body shop public profile is a global phenomenon, and it attracts a whole range of unwelcome additional decisions from those who could influence the sector for the better (such as Government policy) through to assumptions about what the sector is like by the general public. That’s our problem, right there…
Our profile is not centred only on safe and accurate repair but on bashing metal on tree stumps – or spraying paint all over the place.
We need highly motivated people to enter the sector to replace the many, many people who will reach retirement age in the next decade or so. The work is highly skilled, complex and challenging – not attributes normally associated with our sector by those who have never seen a body shop. All too often the idea of someone working outside with a hammer bashing out dents is the defining image, followed by the idea that the people who do this know very little.
Transportation, regardless of how it is powered and indeed even if it will have a driver, is here to stay. The automotive industry is flat out introducing ever more elaborate systems to achieve performance improvements, from comfort through to safety and emissions. Things like ADAS and – ultimately – autonomous vehicles, are icing on the cake.
So where is our sector?
For the most part we are catching up, supporting each new technology revolution as it appears. In order to do that we need the traditional skills, based on thinking, with newer skills to – such as understanding software, electronics and even things like telematics (the ability of a vehicle to receive as well as broadcast data to the world). However, the rate at which each new revolution arrives is quickening.
In order to cope with that torrent of technology, we don’t need ‘artisans’. We already have them but need more technocrats, who also happen to be good with physical skills. What is the point of understanding a part is made from expensive materials, and if not damaged needs to be removed to access a repair … and then damaging it in the process of removal?
May I propose a new name for our body shop colleagues: ‘Technocrat’, or ‘tech’ for short.
This conveys a sector based on technology rather than only manual artistic skills. From that we can start to alter the initial image of our sector from Government through to the public, and in the process start to attract people that we need. Make no mistake, collision repair is an important part of the economy, and it is not simply a holding pen for anyone without a job.
By Andrew Marsh