BY LINDSEY COOKE
If there is one thing that I’ve learned over the year I have spent writing for Bodyworx Professional, it is that if you’re passionate about something, no one can take it away from you. Plenty of up-and-coming repairers in training have been told not to pursue a career in the trades. “Go to university; become a bank manager, an accountant or a paralegal,” many parents will advise their children.
Of course, this attitude doesn’t really reflect the opportunities offered by so many industries — collision repair among them. But winning over parents by showing them a list of pros vs. cons isn’t always easy. What does win them over? Passion. Dedication. Talent. In the many conversations I have had with young repairers, I’ve come to realize that even the most determined parent will get behind the career ambitions of child who is passionate about their chosen profession — and this industry is full of passionate and determined young people. I know some parents will be concerned that the automotive repair industry is changing, and what work will be performed by machines and what will be performed by flesh-and-blood repairers in the coming decades isn’t yet clear. But humans will always be needed in this industry. I am not just towing the party line here. There is a phenomenon in the collision repair world that nobody seems to have noticed (which I am officially dubbing Cooke’s Collision Repair Paradox): the more complex the technology in vehicles becomes, the more human oversight is required to repair the vehicle.
Why? First: for any technology to be able to fix another technology, the former must be more advanced than the latter. Second: to stay competitive, car manufacturers must produce vehicles equipped with cutting-edge technology. So, what does this mean for long-term job prospects in the world of collision repair? Cutting-edge vehicle repairs will require humans to figure out exactly how to repair vehicles — and more and more of those repair professionals will be women.
Traditionally, the voices steering women away from rewarding collision repair jobs have been even louder than those facing their male peers. Despite this, the number of women in the ranks of painters and technicians has grown exponentially over the past two decades. From what I’ve seen, that is because the industry is inspiring women to give it their all. Catherine Matthewson’s passion for car painting resulted in a series of medals, and led to her winning the gold for auto painting at this year’s Skills Canada competition. Matthewson is one of the many women I have spoken with that want to see changes in the industry — and I believe she will be one of the women to make that happen.
But Matthewson isn’t alone. More and more women are proving people wrong everyday and are changing the stigma surrounding the trades. These women provide an example to young girls who are still pondering what they want to be when they grow up. Take 20-year-old Shanyce Neal, for example. She has been working in a shop since high school and hasn’t looked back since. Neal has also provided inspiration to young girls who are thinking about what their dream career will be, and at just five years old, Rielle Rumzi is convinced she will become a car painter when she grows up.
These are the kind of people that will change the nature of the auto repair industry. Not only will the ratio of women entering the trades rise, but the number of people entering our industry in particular may also increase.