Painting the way: Auto Body students completing internships for more career skills

Published 4:28 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2023

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By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor

Transferable skills is something that is often talked about in light of careers. Students in the Auto Body Collision Repair program at LeCroy Career Technical Center are honing skills used for painting various vehicles through internships this school year.

While students usually focus on cars and trucks in the school shop, students Tyler Ellison of Jemison, Braxton Jones of Thorsby and Jared Smith of Jemison are painting cranes, counter weights and other equipment, so it stays looking up to job site standards while interning with The Bridge Builders of Alabama. Student Garren Simpson of Thorsby is getting to do work on some  car restorations and other body work at CFTP.

This is the first year that the company has had LCTC interns.

Internships for his students are important to instructor Jason Duren because “there is always the possibility of getting a full-time there.” Even if it does not directly lead to a job offer, an internship gives the opportunities to build on what they have learned at the school and increases the experience they can put on a resume.

“They are going to learn more at a shop or a business then they will in here,” Duren said.

The opportunity is open to seniors that are at a level where they can do the work needed.

Auto body work is a field that students can go into straight out of high school without completing additional post-secondary training.

Christian Agee, safety manager at Bridge Builders, said a tour for the students was hosted because there was a concrete truck and some cranes that the company needed to have painted.

At the end of the tour, those interested in the opportunity were presented a hiring package.

The interns work 20 hours a week during the school year.

Sandblasting is a new skill that the students have acquired while on the job.

“We have to make sure that it is really a safe place for them,” Agee said. “They have done a good job of wearing their safety glasses and wearing their gloves and being cautious, and listening to our supervisors that here helping them … They’ve been awesome.”

Jones said the setup is similar to the shop he was used to at LCTC. A recent project included filling in dents on a barrier and painting it.

“We are outside a good bit, so I really like that,” Jones said. “… It is a good community really.”

He said the people he works with are really what he has enjoyed most about the internship because they have been willing to help him find equipment and complete projects.

Jones plans to pursue a full-time job with The Bridge Builders of Alabama after graduation.

The students have also been able to assist certified employees on some projects that are a bit beyond their paint and autobody skills. Agee said this allows them to “get their hands-on, real life industrial job site type stuff.”

Ellison was interested in the internship as an opportunity to learn new things.

Some of the techniques are the same, but Ellison said the paint sprayers used on the job site are different. He has enjoyed learning the new skills.

After graduation, he is considering pursuing a job with The Bridge Builders of Alabama or working in an auto body shop.

Smith was excited for the opportunity to start earning money with his skills and increase his experience through this opportunity. He said each day has something different. One day, he was helping paint the concrete plant, while another day they are painting construction booms. He said the items being painted are more varied then he had anticipated, and he is using different materials.

After graduation, Smith will complete an apprenticeship at Joe Hudson’s Collision Center.

“My dad helped me get that, so a week after I graduate I will be starting up there, and I will be doing body work and painting on cars, instead of cranes,” Smith said.

Simpson’s internship at CFTP body shop allowed him to continue his summer job.

“Whenever I went back to school, I still wanted to work here, and then I remembered they did internships,” Simpson said.

Simpson said the LCTC gave him the skills to be able to do what was needed for his job on day one.

“I got the chance to do a lot more cool things, like me personally doing it, instead of letting someone show me how to do it,” Simpson said.

What he has enjoyed most is being a part of making vehicles look good again.

“Whenever you get a finished paint job … and it’s looking better than it did when it first came in here, you are proud of yourself,” Simpson said. “You feel accomplished.”

Many of the vehicles that come into the shop are older models, and some are restorations. Simpson expects to stay in the car industry after graduation.

CFTP owner Tim Littlefield said he enjoys being able to give young people a start in the industry. He said the industry needs more employees, and needs to invest in getting young people interested.

While this is the first time he has had an intern from LCTC, Littlefield said this is something that he would be interested in doing again.