Hilary White-Speir and Rebecca Nichols lead the paint crew at University Collision Center and hope other young women and men join the industry.
Hilary White-Speir paints for a living, which isn’t unusual for the graduate of an arts program. But her choice of canvas — the doors, hoods and roofs of vehicles, is a little more unorthodox.
She and Rebecca Nichols, whose background is originally in horticultural sciences, form the paint team at University Collision Center in Gainesville, 2700 NW 74th Place, the pair leading a new generation of car repair shop workers hoping to break stereotypes in an industry long dominated by men.
Nichols began working at University Collision three years ago, first as a detailer, putting finishing touches on vehicles. A month ago, Nichols became the paint prepper and White-Speir joined the team as the lead painter. She previously worked at a larger repair shop in town.
“It was a sink or swim set up, so I learned quickly,” White-Speir said. “I swam after sinking a few times.”
She’s quick to compliment the talents of her co-worker Nichols, who is learning to become a painter herself and currently does paint prep at the shop, buffering out bumpers and other car parts and sanding them until they’re smooth enough to paint.
“She’s already outdoing most of the guys I’ve worked with,” White-Speir said. “Your paint job will suffer without a good prepper.”
Nichols is modest about her work, though she admits precision in her work is necessary to end up with smooth car parts that look as if they came straight from off the factory line.
“It takes a lot of skill to be able to do,” she said.
Neither woman said she experienced sexism working in a car shop or felt she had to work harder to prove her worth because she is a woman. A third of University Collision’s small staff of 12 is women.
Still, White-Speir said at her old workplace, employees from older generations sometimes had more traditionalist thoughts on what it takes to be in the business.
“There’s a lot of old blood in the industry,” she said. “Some people’s mentalities were maybe not as forward-thinking. There’s a good sense of teamwork at this shop because it’s so small.”
Nichols said having less experience and being a woman never held her back because she always had confidence in her own abilities.
“I was taught to work hard,” she said. “Your work ethic says a lot about how [success] happens.”
University Collision co-owner Frank Kolosky said the pair is invaluable at the shop and has contributed to overall better quality work.
“I feel that six months from now, it will be night and day,” he said.
White-Speir, who also teaches arts to children including at-risk youth and has two sons herself, said she enjoys telling younger generations about her job in the shop.
“These kids don’t realize this is a livelihood they can have,” she said.
Nichols echoed that working in the shop is a stable income and offers a lot of opportunity to be challenged continuously.
“I hope that what we’re doing here can bring in more females and young people in general,” she said.