By Jeff Sanford
Markham, Ontario — April 5, 2016 — A long-standing issue in the collision repair industry has been the lack of trained technicians. Instilling the knowledge of how to repair cars after an accident has to be a priority if body shops are going to continue to be viable. Arguably, few in the industry have done more to train the next generation of workers than Jack Tellian, owner and operator of Markham-based collision repair centre KKT Auto Collision.
Tellian started in the auto body industry in 1972. He was just 13 when he began sweeping up shops. Now, more than 40 years later, he has developed a reputation as a stand-out trainer of young talent.
KKT Auto Collision takes in two to four students a year from Markville Secondary School as part of the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. Tellian has been recognized with awards for his ability to provide mentorship and training for students looking for guidance in the industry.
His dedication to training is also clear in a wall of letters in his shop office. They are from former students thanking him for their experience at KKT, and for the skills and knowledge they gained from Tellian.
“I take pride in helping the youth. I care about the students. They are our future. I treat them like they are my own kids,” said Tellian in a recent interview with Collision Repair magazine.
The important thing, says Tellian, is giving the kids real hands-on experience in the shop when they are there.
“I know that, at some places, the techs don’t dedicate enough time to training the kids. The techs are busy around the clock trying to get their own work done on time. So, the students just stand around and watch, or are tasked with sweeping the shop, and don’t get the proper hands-on experience for which they entered the apprenticeship program. No wonder kids don’t want to get into the industry,” says Tellian. “Everyone is so busy that they don’t think about the next generation of the trade. It’s not a sustainable way to operate, especially with the current shortage of properly trained and skilled people. Because the kids don’t get the experience and real training they are looking for, they become disappointed and stop pursuing a career in the industry. It’s not good. It’s not just about getting kids into shops and putting them on the floor to sweep up. You have to take the time to develop the next generation.”
Giving the students proper hands-on training, by letting them do real jobs with informative supervision, has inspired many of the students that have come to KKT. Many of the youth that Tellian has worked with have decided that they want to have a career in the industry, and have continued their education and apprenticeship in college.
In September of 2006, York Region recognized his outstanding contribution to apprenticeship training. In 2012, he was named Best Supervisor of the Year at Markville Secondary School.
“We have to have a strong work ethic in this industry. I try to encourage all of my apprentices to work hard and to always do their best, both in their careers and in their lives,” he says.
“Another big issue with sustaining the future workforce of the industry is not enough financial incentive,” says Tellian. “Money is tight in this industry. It’s difficult for aspiring tradesmen to find apprenticeship positions because the shops don’t have enough money to hire them. There has to be more financial support for the shops to be able to take in apprentices.”
Tellian continues to work at training the next generation at KKT Auto Collision, despite the obstacles. “If you know how to treat apprentices well, we will have no problem with having enough people that want to enter the industry,” he says. “Treat them as human beings. Teach them. Invest the time and effort. Plant a seed and watch it grow.”