Auto body industry looking to recruit teens for careers

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A recent career fair showed the auto body repair industry is looking for young people to fulfill growing demand for jobs.

At a recent career fair, bright-eyed teenagers filled two floors of the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar.

This was a specifically focused event, for careers working around cars

"People love cars. There are so many things you can do with cars, and so to be able to work in an industry that you love, it's amazing," said Della Domingo, public relations director for SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association.

This career fair was specifically geared toward jobs repairing collision-damaged cars. A career that can be a good one, in an industry that will need new talent.

"The average age of technicians is somewhere around 48 years old. And so as that generation starts moving out, we don't yet have enough of the younger generation moving in," said Gene Lopez, director of development and training for Seidner's Collision Centers.

And if you're a young car enthusiast, why not take on a career you're enthused about. Most of the students at this career fair are very excited about the future with regard to cars.

"Cars are going to evolve, and it's going to grow. And nowadays with Tesla and hydrogen cars, people need to know how to fix that stuff," said Bruce Hernandez, a student at San Gabriel High School.

"This is the first time I've been to one of these kinds of things, and it's really opened my mind to the opportunities that are in the auto industry," said Enrico Gonzalez, also a student at San Gabriel High.

But the auto body industry is no longer only about being able to straighten metal and apply new paint. With cars getting more high-tech, fixing them after a crash is not for the unskilled, due to the myriad of sensors and systems contained just behind the sheet metal.

"We need to be certain that we re-initialize, re-calibrate and adjust that equipment so that it all operates correctly when the car is going back down the road," noted Lopez.

For example, another major chain, Service King Collision Repair Centers, is the authorized body shop for Tesla models. With all the wiring, sensors and other electronics on board, a laptop computer is the first tool used on one when it needs body repairs. A lead technician connects software to the car to begin diagnostics.

Then the physical work can take place - carefully, whether it's on a Tesla or almost any modern car. There are all kinds of sensors on even lower-priced models, which have to be disconnected, tested and then reconnected during the repair process.

And that's why the body technicians of tomorrow can make a good living putting them right.

"There's a lot of six-figure career opportunities, even for someone with just a high school diploma who combines that with some years of industry learning," said Lopez.

The young men and women who visited SEMA's auto body career fair quickly learned that they could have a bright future working around cars.
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