By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario — November 19, 2015 — In an industry as complex as the collision repair business the importance of proper training and certification is impossible to overstate. A poor or improper weld performed during a structural collision repair can compromise the vehicle’s structural integrity. The result, as I-CAR points out, is that a “repaired” vehicle can then be dangerously unsafe to drive.
Acquiring the basic skills to perform proper welds is key for the long-term health of the industry. This is true now more than ever. With the collision repair industry undergoing a “technical tsunami” of new lightweight vehicles, the need for updated and advanced welding training for all technicians has never been more urgent. Good thing then that the links between I-CAR and Canada’s major polytechnical institutes are stronger than ever.
Canada is blessed with a string of strong provincial-level technical training schools. From BCIT in British Columbia, to Red River College in Manitoba, to the Centre de formation Compétence-de-la-Rive-Sud in Quebec and to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Community Colleges on the east coast, the number of institutions dedicated to providing welding certification has never been wider. I-CAR partners with these and other institutions to provide welding certification. These partnerships are known among sophisticated industry executives to provide the kind of training that allows auto-body shops to be run as professional, safe businesses.
Considering the importance of proper welding skills, the I-CAR welding certification program is, arguably, the most important training program available to the industry in this country. “We’ve been lucky to partner with I-CAR Canada,” says Scott Kucharyshen, Auto Body Program Head at the Saskatchewan Polytechnic school.
“In the past we had outsourced this kind of training.” That is, Saskatchewan students had to take several days off work to travel out-of-province to get this training, travelling all the way to Manitoba for the classes. That was impractical for many. “But with this agreement in place, having jumped through the hurdles, we can offer this program in-province now, and that’s great,” says Kucharyshen. “It’s important to the development of this industry here. It’s something students appreciate. This provides better access to training in the province. With more and more cars on the road, it was time to get this.”
The school now offers all four levels of welding certification. The highest level now is a course on aluminum welding, which is becoming more important as mainstream vehicles like the Ford F-150 are being built with aluminum bodies.
“This helps us to be viable and pertinent. The timing was perfect,” says Kucharyshen. There are benefits to the school as well with the I-CAR partnership. “One of the things you do by running more I-CAR courses is that you develop stronger links with industry. As a polytechnical school, this is important for us to do,” says Kucharyshen. “This brings the industry back into the building. And this is a good thing. This forges a new relationship. Students recognize Saskatchewan Polytechnic as the place to go for this kind of learning.”
Not every college is offering the full complement of I-CAR training programs. But most do, and that is important for the overall development of the industry. “It’s been very good for us. The course is popular. We’ve had this class for about a year,” says Randy Sandhu, Chief Instructor in the auto body program at BCIT.
“There is a shortage of skilled technicians here. This is an important skill to teach.” The school has a dedicated teacher. He went to Winnipeg to get trained. Now he’s leading provincial residents through the new and more sophisticated welding techniques being used in the industry. “With the shift to aluminum in the Ford F-150 this is more important than ever,” says Sandhu. Luckily the locals are picking up the skills. So far the pass rate has been about 95 percent. The challenges of offering this class on the West Coast, however, are unique.
The issues, says Sandhu, are all about scheduling. This being BC, the instructor sometimes travels to the outer islands, up and down the coast to teach classes. “This is the challenge here,” says Sandhu.
The challenge for the industry as a whole is training. It is almost frightening to contemplate, but according to I-CAR, a remarkable majority—69 percent—of US technicians currently welding in collision repair facilites lack formal welding training.
In Canada, technicians are considered “welding qualified” if they have passed their apprenticeship training. But as technicians age, this qualification can be 20 or even 30 years out of date. This is the reason why some OEMs require a current I-CAR Canada welding certificate, renewable every five years, for shops to participate in their certified collision repair networks. According to I-CAR this is a “critical consumer-safety issue.” As I-CAR puts it, “Proper welds can save lives … with safety of clients at stake, can you afford not to train?”