Like many dealership body shop managers, Ronnie Brush sees technical training for his staff as a big line item in his budget. Many insurance companies' direct repair programs require participating shops to maintain the “I-CAR Gold Class Professional” designation. That means a high percentage of employees must complete courses offered by I-CAR, the industry's leading technical training organization.

So Brush, manager of the Westside Lexus body shop in Houston, TX, was thrilled to learn that he could get “Gold Class” points for two of his recent hires at a fraction of the cost of sending them to I-CAR classes, thanks to the new “Industry Training Alliance.”

The Alliance, created by I-CAR last year, recognizes certain training courses — such as those offered by vocational, schools, community colleges or paint or equipment manufacturers — as equivalent to I-CAR courses. By offering points toward the Gold Class designation for those completing this other training, I-CAR hopes to turn the Gold Class program into a benchmark for all industry training, not just that offered by I-CAR.

“For many years, Gold Class had an inward vision: I-CAR recognition of I-CAR training,” says Tom Mack, executive vice president of I-CAR. “That can only take the industry so far. We felt that making it a true benchmark, that reflected all the quality training in the industry, would be a true benefit for the industry.”

“We want Gold Class to be the badge of honor that says, ‘We're well-trained,’” said Rick Tuuri, past chairman of I-CAR's board of directors. “Whether that training comes from I-CAR or Martin-Senour or Chief Automotive or Akzo Nobel or anyone who's part of that program really becomes of little or no consequence. The main goal is encouraging and recognizing training.”

Brush, for example, recently hired two graduates of the autobody training program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Houston. It's the first school to join the Industry Training Alliance. All such graduates — or their employers — can receive Gold Class points by paying a $20-per-point administration and transfer fee.

Before, for Westside Lexus to get a Gold Class point for a new hire from UTI, Brush would have had to send that technician to a four-hour I-CAR course with a $60-$95 registration fee.

There are benefits besides the registration cost savings. Employees don't have to spend time away from the dealership to sit through training they may have already received from other sources. And earning and maintaining the Gold Class designation becomes easier because qualified training is available from more sources at more locations.

Don Askew of PPG Industries, one of more than a half dozen paint companies participating in the Alliance, said that, in the past, a painter or the dealership employer might pay three separate times for training on, say, how to properly fit, wear and maintain a respirator.

It worked this way:

A student in a refinish training program at a community college learns such basics. Then when he goes to work at a shop, his employer sends him to training offered by the shop's paint supplier, training that includes basic respirator and safety issues. If the dealership wanted to maintain its Gold Class Professionals designation, the young technician would get sent to I-CAR's refinish-related classes — that once again, discuss respirator use.

“That's the kind of redundancy in training we'd like to eliminate,” Mack says. “It's expensive for shops, it's not a good use of the technician's time, and it doesn't provide a lot of value for the customers our industry serves.”

I-CAR will now maintain a student database, which includes all Alliance training programs. Once I-CAR receives documentation from the Alliance member that a student has completed a training course, that student can apply to I-CAR for Gold Class credit. The student's I-CAR transcript will list all courses taken from I-CAR and Alliance members.

In order to qualify for the Industry Training Alliance, training providers must quality for “CASE” certification, a rigorous review of its curriculum and instructor development which is conducted by ASE, the same organization that offers technician testing and certification programs.

Brush says the Industry Training Alliance is important, not only because it will reduce training costs for the dealership, but it will reward schools for producing qualified entry-level technicians.

“The two UTI graduates that I employ were able to produce from day one and did not start just as apprentices,” Brush says. “They were better prepared, and the investment in obtaining their I-CAR training credit and Gold Class points was very worthwhile.”

“Our industry for now and forever is pulling together to drive this training issue because we know that this is going to be the key to the future for the industry,” PPG's Askew says.

In addition to PPG and UTI, Alliance members include Akzo Nobel Coatings, BASF Corporation, Car-O-Liner Company, Chief Automotive Systems, DuPont Performance Coatings, Martin Senour Paints, Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, and Spies Hecker. A current list of Alliance training providers and their courses is on the I-CAR website (www.i-car.com) or (800)422-7872.