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Trade skills recruitment programs, the key to our future workforce

As the collision repair industry and many other trade-based industries struggle to source new talent, we must ask ourselves, “Where will the future workforce come from if we continue to do the same things or nothing at all?” It is vital we look at successful case studies of skills-based school initiatives from around the world and plan how to scale these, or use aspects of them, as mainstream education programs.

We need to consider how these micro trade skills school pilots got the results and the successful elements within, then plan how to scale such programs into mainstream education and industry channels. Done right it will connect with and engage the future workforce, the students. Though, Who is responsible for driving such programs? Where will the funding come from for the digital tools and marketing material? Is it government, multi-shop collision groups, or industry bodies? Is it a combination of all key industry players including OEMs, Insurance Companies, Suppliers, and Collision Groups, supported by government-based initiatives?

I really do not know the answer to this. Over the years I have been a part of so many industry recruitment programs and major events where skills shortage has been a major talking point with little to no results. It is not something that can be easily concluded. Should industry organizations like IBIS take the lead with the support of their global member base? Do we need one voice, one message, one platform to represent our industry and direct recruits through a well-managed recruitment platform? It is a vital question that needs to be answered. We need to take steps to assure that we have easy, relevant access to secure new talent. You are mistaken if you do not see that we are competing with new advancing technologies, universities, as well as other trades for the workforce of the future.

New self-taught technologies are emerging. Pre-career students are gaining valuable career skills from home while having fun with activities like gaming. It is time to give thought to what steps we must take to capture as much future talent as we can. We must show them career paths in our thriving industry to attract the next generation of Body Repair Technicians, Painters, Scanning and Calibration Technicians, Estimators, and Managers. It is our race for survival.

One perfect example is the Ready Tradie Go Pilot that our immersive skills technology company Tradiebot used to great success in 2020. Tradiebot teamed up with the New South Wales Department of Education and key collision industry partners to deliver a fresh message on trade skills programs to great success.

The Pilot in Australia was successful because it took a different approach. Why did so many pre-career young people sign up and get excited about a career in the future of collision repair? It comes down to a few key factors:

  •  Industry stakeholders identified the need to invest in new technologies tools and marketing strategies to be more appealing to the next generation.
  • Connections were made with student using digital tools they embrace such as Mobile Apps, VR Headsets and Online Videos.
  • The industry was marketed as being very secure, highlighting exciting career opportunities through smart videos that showed the technology of current and future of vehicles combined with clean facilities.
  • The pilot design made it easy for students, parents and teachers to get information on career paths, earning potential and the future of the industry.

Led by Government, stakeholder partners like 3M, Axalta and Capital S.M.A.R.T. represented what was being promoted – clean, technologically advanced, and updated facilities that showed our industry in the best possible light. How do we take a program like the pilot to every classroom and school to sell the benefits and career opportunities of working in the collision repair industry?

Read below more about the program and what the pilot achieved!

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Ready Tradie Go! Pilot Program Media

A digital skills high school program designed to engage the next generation of automotive apprentices using the latest Virtual Reality technology and a mobile app developed by the Australian immersive technology company.

The initiative brings together industry stakeholders and global leaders such as 3M, Axalta, Australian collision repairer group Capital SMART of the AMA Group, and the Australian Association of Progressive Repairers (AAPR). Together these stakeholders have collaborated to provide inquisitive students information on pathways from the classroom to an apprenticeship within the collision industry.

The pilot debuted in late November to huge interest with 56 students across 3 high schools on the NSW North Shore using 2 of Tradiebot’s all-new Tradieforce VR consoles, one sponsored by NSW Education the other by Axalta, enabling students to try automotive spray painting. They took turns painting a virtual car while competing against one another to paint the best car and achieve a high score.

The pilot shared promotional videos that showcased collision repair developments and a new look industry featuring the SMART collision facilities, state of the art Axalta training centers, and a view into what the future holds for advancements in vehicle technology by 3M. This all works together to highlight potential careers in repairing or serving the vehicles of the future.

From the initial 56 participants who committed to the program, 28 students (21 boys and 7 girls) have signed up to attend the second stage of the program together with their parents and teachers. Here they will visit the 3M Innovation Centre in Sydney in early 2021 to try hands-on collision-based skills.

Peter O’Doherty, Senior Project Officer: NSW Education Partnerships 

“With the COVID-19 pandemic having major impacts on not only the way we interact but also daily business operations and travel, it has made traditional forms of training more difficult. Businesses and training organizations are now seeking new approaches to training to be able to provide staff with the necessary skills and understanding required to undertake work on the ever-changing, complex vehicles of today. By utilizing remote digital solutions such as those Tradiebot has to offer, it enables training to be undertaken in real-time, anywhere and at a time that will suit each individual.”

O’Doherty went on to say: “By utilizing virtual training, learner engagement is improved. With the real world disappearing when the user places on the VR headset, they become less susceptible to interruptions that may be occurring within the environment around them. Ultimately becoming more engaged by the material and are more likely to retain the information displayed.”

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( Tradieforce Virtual Training & Assessment Console )

 The Tradieforce Console is a first-of-its-kind offering that provides school students the very latest in portable VR hardware and software. What makes this so highly engaging is the integrated gamification of learning the fundamentals of various automotive trades, with an initial focus on Spray Painting. The console combines an Intel NUC microcomputer equipped with an elite graphics card together with an Oculus Rift S VR headset. They pair effectively with innovative Tradiebot software to generate interest.

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( Virtual Skills Training & Assessment Centre )

Greg Preston, CEO of the Automotive Association of Progressive Repairers, who took participated in-person throughout the pilot said:

 “It was encouraging to see a very strong interest shown by the students taking part in the pilot, something we have not seen for a while with other collision-based school programs. This could be the piece of the puzzle that the industry has been missing in recent to attract new apprentices.

“Tradiebot has really delivered a fantastic product that allows students to be engaged with collision skills in the comfort of the classroom using the same virtual reality and gaming applications they interact with within modern-day society whether it be at school or at home. Our members and the industry as a whole will greatly benefit from using such new innovative technology tools.” 

Ready, Tradie Go! offers high school students the opportunity to visit Training and Innovation Centres of industry-leading, world class companies 3M and Axalta in Sydney. Through this multi-step opportunity, students can gain a true understanding of what a trade career will offer within today’s society and highlight the multiple avenues for career progression.

Steven Brett, Managing Director of Axalta Coating Systems (ANZ) confirmed,

“Axalta is committed to supporting students and ensuring the future of our industry. The ‘Ready, Tradie, Go’ initiative allows students to experience the rewarding and creative aspects of a career in vehicle painting without having to leave their school environment – introducing them to a career they may have not previously considered. Through this interactive experience, we hope to ignite an interest in pursuing the vehicle painting trade and continue to help them grow and contribute to the industry’s future.”

By utilizing immersive technologies that students are familiar with and use frequently, Ready, Tradie Go! increases engagement and attention, whilst offering the industry a means to promote a secure and evolving career within any chosen trade. With demand and opportunity increasing, tradespeople are offered exciting and prospective career pathways ranging from owning a business or progressing into upper management roles within a selected trade. Development is nearly completed that will allow the program to introduce other trade skills such as metal and plastic welding. These, and over a dozen more soon, are available for download from the Tradieforce website. All will integrate the same way with the compact and portable Tradieforce Console by mid-2021.

Melanie Timmerman, Community Partnerships & Pathways: Catholic Schools commented,

“The Ready Tradie Go pilot that delivered virtual spray-painting training and industry engagement, by Tradiebot, was a great way for our students at St Leo’s Catholic College to experience trade skills and possible career pathways in the collision industry for the workforce of the future. The hands-on approach, for students to use the Virtual Reality headsets to try their spray painting skills, was an easy and fun way into the industry and an easy conversation opener of what other virtual training options are available and how this can lead to further industry discovery experiences.

“I would recommend any school to try a program like that of Tradiebot, as it will inform and prepare students of the future career opportunities available to them, both during and after high school.”

Ready, Tradie Go! will provide users with the ability to try new trades in VR, combining familiar gaming elements such as competitive scoring, building, and customization. It encourages the best performance while showcasing the highest-scoring vehicles within the virtual showroom. Multiple studies have shown how effective the use of the immersive technology of VR is when compared to traditional methods.

With the addition of the Tradieforce mobile application, students and/or job seekers with an interest in a trade career can acquire information, and hear directly from potential employers and trade professionals. The app encourages users to create a profile, build up their resume and apply for jobs in real-time. Users can choose to connect with one another and can share their success stories with others who may be thinking about starting a career within a trade-based industry.

Mario Dimovski, CEO at Tradiebot and creator of the program who started his career at sixteen as an automotive plastic repair apprentice stated:

“This has been one of the most rewarding projects I have had the pleasure to be a part of collaborating with our industry and education partners.

“The Ready Tradie Go program is a great opportunity to showcase the advancements and opportunities that the collision industry offers with numerous exciting career pathways available.

“I started my career as a tradesperson and evolved into an industry pioneer, this serves as a great example that having a trade background can lead to amazing opportunities. This would not have been possible if I hadn’t started my apprenticeship, worked my way through the trade, progressing into management roles, and eventually starting up my own businesses.”

“We work in a great industry that is evolving with many exciting technological advancements and new career pathways to be created as vehicles transform into complex machines. This needs to be showcased and promoted using digital tools and out-of-the-box programs to school kids, teachers, and parents. Done right, we can overcome the skills shortage and re-ignite the flow of new apprentices.”

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( Mobile App connecting students to pilot partner jobs & work experience ) 

Training organizations are provided with access to an online portal that provides user-based analytics assessing student performance. The software captures and tracks individual metrics such as time taken, paint applied, area coverage, and more when a student uses the Tradieforce Console. The platform also stores historic records by students to be able to measure progress. It also captures session recordings to assist trainers in monitoring progress and identifying areas of concern.

Plans are underway for Ready, Tradie Go! to visit other NSW high schools, as are preparations for a broader program within the high school network across all of Australia. The common threads are capturing interest with the Tradieforce VR Consoles to engage students, promoting the collision industry, and interacting with interested students to provide information on a path towards an apprenticeship into the exciting and growing industry.

Tradiebot is well underway in exploring collaborations with its growing pool of international partners to expand Ready, Tradie Go! in 2021 leading the way in the digital transformation of training and candidate assessments.

Big thank to the pilot partners:

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Project Highlights & Testimonial Video: