Wrap-Ed Transit

Sep 1, 2010

It’s a common complaint in the industry. There are no schools for those who need or want to learn about graphics, vinyl and wraps for the restyling business. And the lack of such schools is happening at the worst possible time. Many businesses have reduced staffs, cut back hours and, in many cases, are down to bare-bones operations.

The state of the economy notwithstanding, shops have very little wiggle room for training new personnel and up-skilling existing workers. After all, when a business, virtually, any business, has to spend valuable, billable hours training workers, it almost instantly affects profit margins. Sure, it’s mostly a onetime investment. But it’s money that could be spent on marketing, advertising or customer attracting functions.

Sadly, it’s more complicated than that.

We’ve seen the industry grow in virtually every aspect of paint, vinyl and related work for restylers, yet the only training most of us hear about is from the manufacturers of the products we use. While that’s not a bad thing, it comes with a caveat: Manufacturers will only train you on their products. Company A is not going to tell you how products from Company B work, much less how products from Company C could factor in. And just as importantly within factory schools, if they don’t offer the product, you’re not likely to learn about it and its uses.

So where is the training for the next generation of restyling workers in the art of the wraps, graphics and using vinyl? And as long as we’re asking, why not educate students in how the disciplines of vinyl work with paint and other ancillary styling products and services? Why not give them the big picture of custom auto graphics?

While there might be training options available coast to coast, we focus on one, whose plan was a complete exposure to the graphics.

Targeted training

That was the idea for Ohio Technical College (OTC) and its Custom Paint and Graphics classes. The OTC class delves into pinstriping, airbrushing, 3-D painting effects, exotic paint, Chameleon colors, flames and vinyl for small decals, vinyl graphics and complete vehicle wraps.

While the course, running 12 weeks and 300 hours in length, does offer such a wide range, it is that variety that gives the student a chance to see the many opportunities each discipline offers. OTC catalogs and Web pages state, “Finally, expand your knowledge into the world of vinyl graphics. From small decals to larger body effects and finally full vehicle wraps, you will enhance your knowledge and skills like nowhere else.” OTC makes its custom paint/graphics class even better by offering it as a “freestanding” one, as it can be taken as a standalone without the formal, longer programs if desired.

Real-world schooling

The OTC Custom Paint and Graphic classes are multi-faceted inasmuch as the variety not only gives students the chance to see and experience all the aspects of vinyl work but to learn more about them in a heavy hands-on approach. Yes, there is some classroom time but it is mostly for overview and big picture presentation. This variety presents the opportunity for students to be exposed to new directions where they might want to go – even if they may have had a different idea when they started the school.

Typically, a student signs on for a program in anything from diesel to powersports and most everything in between. OTC’s 112 classes and 11 programs, four of which offer accredited certificates in such things as ASE/NATEF and I-CAR, also offer satellite classes for specialization training. That’s a big attraction, as that’s what can get the graduate a job quicker, filling a niche.

The main campus consists of more than 800,000-sq.-ft. with more to come as new programs and classes are created. OTC must be doing it right, as they were named the 2009 National School of the Year.

While the 12-week class moves along quickly, instructors use the time to develop each student’s potential to, as noted on the website, “Express your design skills in this very popular and profitable field. You can greatly enhance your earning potential and value with these additional skills.” The class includes practical components, and catalogs point out the importance of, “Understanding the costing factors involved and when and how to quote vinyl versus airbrush and pinstriping.” So not only do the students actually work with vinyl, they are taught the basics for jobbing and costs – another real-world bonus for potential employers.

The big bonus here is a more well-rounded experience in vehicle graphics. If a shop has a worker who knows the differences between painting, airbrushing and vinyl/wrap, and how they can interact, he or she is a bigger asset to that shop. Moving the concept outward, that same shop can now offer more variety to customers looking to personalize their vehicles. From the workers’ viewpoint, they are now a more viable job candidate with additional skills on their resume.

A working curriculum

The class starts out with pinstriping and moves on to air brushing, painting effects and flames before moving more deeply into vinyl; by the vinyl stage of the class, students have already been introduced to vinyl and its use as a tool in graphics such as creating vinyl masks and templates typical for such work as airbrushing and flames. Later, they learn how to use vinyl for stickers, graphics and vehicle wraps.

OTC’s custom paint department is well staffed and equipped to give students a good start from a staff of five instructors that understand and have spent years in the business. While the targeted class has yet to get directly into paint protection films, the basics of vinyl cover that effectively.

Students spend two days with wraps and literally start from the bottom. After a brief overview from the instructor and time in the lab learning to print out the wrap on a Roland VersaCamm VP-300, the class starts the bulk of the hands-on time by removing the wrap the previous class installed on a Chevy Monte Carlo hulk in the studio/classroom.

Using heat guns and plenty of fingernails, the students take off the old wrap and wash the car down. Students quickly learn there is no easy way for removal. Then, the instructor takes over, showing first the printout of the overall layout of the wrap and how it relates to the lines of the car. His first step is to lay down and align the first panel using the biggest accent on the wrap and the car’s smaller opera window. From there, he engages the students to do small portions that grow into larger ones. Stepping in to show how to get over the tougher aspects of wraps, the instructor gives the students the tips of the trades in a running commentary. The students work solo and in teams, learning mostly by actually doing. It’s interesting watching the knowledge spread, confidence build and the car get covered. By the end of the two days, the car will usually have one full side completed and either the hood or deck lid covered.

A student’s perspective

We talked to one former OTC student who took the Custom Paint and Graphic class as somewhat of an add-on to his original program. Mike Weitzsacker signed up for classes in auto body and to get his I-CAR certificate. While on his initial OTC tour, he got to visit the custom paint department and says it, “excited me.”

“What really hooked me was this school had the custom graphics with everything included,” he says. He went on with his original plan, completing the program and getting the certificate. But there was more, now.

One was how the school helps the students in the long term. “The school, as a whole, really teaches you to market yourself,” says Weitzsacker, who sums up his experience as, “I had a blast.”

During the custom paint class, Weitzsacker says he was impressed with how he learned to design using different computer processes. Taking advantage of the school’s informal extracurricular study program, he sat in on the Custom Paint and Graphics classes again, where he quickly got into hand lettering and sign work. The extra effort and info from the instructors allowed Weitzsacker to fine-tune his skills, narrow down the disciplines and even gave him a new direction.

Even though he got his certificate in auto body, Weitzsacker says, “I wanted to focus on vinyl graphics and hand lettering.” He quickly got the hang of it and even helped with the school’s own abundant graphics work that is run through the department. He worked, “almost like an apprentice,” he adds, and found he not only had the desire for the vinyl work but an aptitude.

It was while working with OTC that Weitzsacker had another twist come his way. Typically, OTC instructors give students information for job leads as part of the school being a source to the industry for new workers. When one opening came up, Weitzsacker called, got an interview and got the job. He worked with vehicle graphics and cut vinyl graphics and would do full wraps on cars as well as partial lettering on cars. He is now offering to do demos for the school and students.

This just might be the end of not having a place for formal training. It’s as simple as going to www.ohiotechnicalcollege.com. We’ll see if it’s the end of the complaining by the industry, though, of not having trained, skilled workers for hire.