Richard Roberts - Collision Department Manager

Richard “Kelly” Roberts

Collision Department Manager, Fix Auto North Bay, ON

I was born/grew up in: Born in Toronto and grew up in Hamilton, Streetsville and then moved to Northern Ontario as a preteen.

I now live in: Restoule, just outside of North Bay, Ontario.

I completed my training/education at: I did not follow a formal education program. I’ve learned and developed my skills by working with other trades people in the different shops where I worked. Working with others gave me hands-on training in the different shops where I worked. I continued to develop my skills over the years and eventually challenged the different certification exams to get official certification. Today I am a Red Seal Collision Repair Technician and I have several specialty welding certificates.

Describe what you do at work.

As the shop manager, I’m very involved in business development. This means I’m constantly making sure we provide excellent service and that people who need vehicle repair think of us first. I’m also always thinking of how we can make our business more efficient and productive. Day to day I’m involved in setting schedules for repair work on vehicles in the shop, making sure we are efficient in our work. I am also a practicing collision repair technician and I work with apprentices to help them progress in their skills and knowledge.

As a repair shop we work together as a team. My philosophy is “the team that wins is the team that works well together”. And as a team, we plan the wins more than playing to win. This means we work to make sure we understand what we have to do to achieve the correct repair for our customers. Some members of the team will have specific roles. For example, the collision repair technicians are primarily responsible for fixing the damaged vehicles and the front counter staff are mainly responsible for customer interactions and communication. But at the same time, the technicians might need to talk with a customer to explain what needs to be done to make the repair and the receptionist can talk in general ways about the types of repairs that will take place. We all support each other to make the shop environment, and the work we do, the best it can be.

In the collision repair business science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) skills are used all the time. Welders need to understand the chemistry of metals and the different composite materials that are used in vehicle manufacture. Check your periodic table and you’ll see that iron and aluminum have different chemical properties. Welders need to know these properties or they won’t be able to make a perfect weld.

The technology used in the collision repair business has changed a lot and very recently. We use a lot more computers and diagnostic equipment now. And new things come on the market every day so we are constantly learning. Every time an automobile manufacturer makes a change in the structural parts of the vehicles they make, that means there will be changes in what we need to know when we do repairs. Physics and math play a big role in vehicle manufacture and in repair. The structure of the vehicle, the frame, the safety features, etc., all has very tight tolerances and standards. When we make repairs, we have to understand those standards and meet them.

Problem solving is a big part of the repair process. And no two damaged vehicles are the same. So we have to investigate the damage. There is obvious damage that you can see. But there can also be secondary damage that you can’t see. So we use our knowledge of how the vehicle is put together to see how far the damage goes. Then we develop a plan to do the repair. 

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

Transportation and vehicles are very important to our society and culture. When you are young, being able to drive a vehicle is something we all look forward to. It is a sign of maturity, freedom and control. And that continues to some degree in the rest of our lives. Collisions take this away from us. People get very emotional over the sudden traumatic event of a collision. In the collision repair business we have to be empathetic to the needs of people who find themselves in this situation. We become very deeply involved in people’s lives and we continue to be involved after we do the repairs as long as the vehicle is on the road. We are accountable for the service and repair we do. People trust us to make repairs that will get them back on the road in a safe vehicle.

What motivates you in your career?

I like the fact that I have the opportunity to keep improving the job that our team does. I’m always looking for other opportunities to get things done even better; this never ends.

But what I enjoy most is putting things back to the way they are supposed to be and knowing the customer will be happy with the job we have done. I like talking with customers who may question the method or standards of repair being done and explaining what we did and why.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I grew up around automobile repair so I guess I always thought I’d be in this business. As a young person I always liked working with my hands; taking stuff apart, figuring out how it worked, building things. My dad was in the industry and introduced me to it. He built models of cars, trucks and airplanes and from an early age, I helped him with this. And I got better with handling the tools of model building at young age.

My dad used to take me to his shop and have me help out by sweeping the floor. There was always a “super important” job that he needed me to do and I loved helping out. As I got a little bit older he had me doing some actually more important things, tasks that had accountability attached to them. He trusted me to do this, which made me feel great...I was really a part of something bigger than me. I credit him for getting me interested in this career sector.

I wasn't a “model student” in school; far from it! It's not that I didn't want to learn. I think now that I just felt disconnected from the process, it wasn't hands on enough for me. I did very well in hands-on practical application type tasks or when it was put to me as a mission of something to get done. In middle school I got to take “shop” classes and it confirmed to me that this was the type of work I wanted to do.

As I said above, I didn’t follow a formal educational process. I worked alongside other trades people and learned from them. One of them was my dad and his was one class that I wouldn’t miss. I guess I did an unofficial apprenticeship program. When my skills got to the required level, I would take the tests so I could get certification. When you are in a job that affects the safety of others, you have to be certified.

I worked for a time in the aviation sector and I did some work in a Harley Davison shop doing custom work. It’s really all part of the repair industry. In all the jobs I had I continued to learn new things a out the industry and how it was run. The opportunity to take on this role, and to be a mentoring manager, is one that I love. I’m getting to make positive changes in the way we do things. I also getting to work with young apprentices, to share my knowledge, and to help them succeed. I can’t imagine doing anything different!

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I love seeking out, finding and restoring lost and forgotten pieces of history. This can be furniture, equipment, vehicles…whatever old stuff I discover. I love woodworking, building stuff with my hands, shaping and modeling. I love restoration projects, breathing life into abandoned things.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Don’t be afraid to try. Fear of failure or hard work should not stop you from trying. The repair industry was much more difficult in the past; it is much easier to fix cars than in the past. It’s a great place to work with plenty of challenge and opportunity for advancement.

Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA Canada) is proud to partner with Let's Talk Science to help shed light on the many interesting STEM related careers available in the automotive aftermarket industry. From the skilled trades to management positions, this industry offers exciting opportunities in a number of areas.

AIA Canada is a national association representing the $21.6 billion automotive aftermarket industry comprising of companies that manufacture, distribute, and install automotive replacement parts, accessories, tools, and equipment. The industry currently employs up to 400,000 people from coast-to-coast.

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