Nichols reflected on the collision repair program at CCCTC and how the training can provide students with the skills necessary to make a good living during Career and Technology Month.
According to Instructor Nichols, students can become completers after two years and have the option for a third year.
“We do everything from the older vehicles to the newest things,” said Nichols.
“Just look around the shop you will see there are older cars, newer cars, we’ve got a wide variety of vehicles that we have been working on. I usually average around five or six completers. This year I am going to have nearly 20 completers because I had a lot of third year students.”
Students, Nichols said, earn NA3SA certification, which they can take with them when they leave the CCCTC program, whether they apply for a job or go on to higher education.
“It gives potential employers an idea of some of they classes they took and passed,” said Nichols. “They can go right to work or they can go to college and further their education.”
The first year, Nichols said, begins with safety training.
“They have to make 100 percent on the test,” said Nichols. “Once they make that, we start going over hand tools and power tools, we start doing surface preparation, and by then we start slowly getting out into the shop. Usually somewhere around three months we do most of our work in the shop. They would take refinishing one, which is just real basic starting out. Then they would do painting and refinishing two. This would be after Christmas. They do finish that up the first year. And that gives them a real start on the basics, getting cars ready to paint and stuff.”
“The second year they would come in and take paint and refinishing three and that does more detail work, getting the vehicle ready to present to the customer,” said Nichols. “After Christmas, they will take a welding course that just covers collision repair welding. It is not like a complete welding course. It will be collision repair like a MIG welder. We will talk about other kinds of welding, but it is mainly in here, the MIG welding, kind of a starter class. It helps them go to college to carry that further.”
“The third year would b non structural repair, fenders, outer sheet metal, putting on new panels and it talks about all the different sheet metal, learning parts of the care, then the other part of the year will be structural,” said Nichols. “Structural would be behind the fenders, core supports and all supportive metals.”
Currently, Nichols has approximately 35 students, including two female students, noting that one is a third year student who will be a completer when she graduates this year.
Nichols feels CCCTC offers a quality collision repair program.
“There are around eight shops within probably five to 10 miles that I could just think of off my head,” said Nichols. “That’s probably eight jobs available, so there is a pretty good variety for them to go straight to work. I do have a couple of students lined up to go to Nashville Diesel College after this year, which is a good ways off.”
Nichols recalls that when he first started out, he worked for Benefield’s Auto Shop while stilling attending school.
“I was able to go to college and when I got through with college, I would work in the evening with him,” said Nichols. “So that is a good option for a lot of students.”
Nichols discussed some of the project ongoing in the auto collision repair shop.
“We have our 1952 Chevrolet Pickup Truck,” said Nichols. “It has been in here for several years. We are trying our hardest to get it out this year. We have completely taken it apart, sand blasted it, carried it to a local sandblaster. We started from scratch. Right now we are doing a complete wiring kit in it, adding a few little odds and ends. We have a little more painting to do on it.”
“We can do newer vehicles too,” said Nichols. “We have a 2005 Lincoln LS which was hit in the front, A Honda we just painted and had to put a new bumper on it. The Lincoln is still in process. We still have a few more cars we have to do a little more painting on.”
“The Camaro was all done in here and it took us about three years to do it,” said Nichols. “Everything was completely torn down on it and started from scratch. We worked with automotive and put a newer style engine in it. We did all wiring, everything from scratch.”
Completers of the auto collision repair program at Cherokee County Career and Technology Center have a bright future ahead of them, Nichols said.
“Once they graduate high school, their main money is going to be made doing repairs,” said Nichols. “Restoration is great. We have a restoration shop that does a great job, but most of it will be insurance work and that is what we want them to be ready for.”
He notes that auto collision repair, however, is not for everybody.
“A lot of them think they are just going to go out here and start working in the shop,” said Nichols. “But you have to do a lot of basics before you even come out here especially with these newer cars. Nobody wants them to come out and start working on them until they have an understanding of what is going on and the process behind it all. A lot of times when they get in there and start actually doing the class work, sometimes some will do good with that and they will come out here and start in the shop and find out they really don’t want to work on vehicles so that is when they need to start looking at another program.”
“It is hard work, but if you like it, you can make a great living doing it,” said Nichols. “But if you don’t like it, it is just like with any job, it is a long day every day. They do learn fairly quickly if they like it or not, if they are cut out for it which is good. I want them to go to something they want to do. And that lets me concentrate on the ones that do want to be here.”