Apprenticeship Training Opens Door to Auto Restoration Career

One day a few years ago, Chrissy Combs walked into Boise Mobile Equipment with her father, who was a welder there. She remembers him saying, “Anyone willing to train her?” Dean Bridwell accepted the challenge and that set Chrissy on a career trajectory leading to where she is now, in the middle of a three-year apprenticeship with McDowells Specialty Repair, an auto, furniture and upholstery service in Boise.

Though she didn’t know it at the time Chrissy would be trained as an auto-body repair tech at BME where she and Dean became good friends. She stayed for nearly eight years until she had to move on due to the economic downturn of 2008.

She landed a position with a bath installation company in the Treasure Valley. Doing this work Chrissy learned to match the paint colors of chipped and cracked bathtubs and tile. When she applied for the apprenticeship at McDowells, this is where owner Bert McDowell saw potential.

“If Chrissy can match that kind of paint, why not cars, upholstery, leather and hard plastic?” said McDowell.

Chrissy applied to the U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Program, sponsored by McDowell’s Repair, and started her apprenticeship in 2019. She originally applied to be a paint-less dent repair tech but saw a great potential in the interior repair side of the business.

The Idaho Department of Labor became involved late last year when McDowells reached out needing technical assistance with requirements of the Registered Apprenticeship program to comply with federal guidelines. That’s when Jinny Boozer, apprenticeship coordinator with the Department of Labor, came into the picture.

Labor’s apprenticeship coordinators take the burden off the employer, providing guidance and support through the process. This is especially helpful for smaller employers where every worker handles several functions and it’s difficult to find the time to devote to the technical side of sponsoring a Registered Apprenticeship program.

In the beginning of her apprenticeship, Chrissy trained with Stacy Rose, a longtime McDowells employee and said to be one of the best in the field. Stacy taught Chrissy vinyl, leather and hard plastic repair, paint repair and clear coat correction, plus a lot more.

Chrissy says her favorite type of work is dash repair and headlight restoration.

“Chrissy has a real talent working with hard plastics. She has a strong work ethic and is her own biggest critic. She will not leave a job until it is perfect in her eyes,” McDowell said.

Today Chrissy is training new employees and teaching them the trade. She intends to stay on with McDowells when her three-year education is complete.

“We love working with Chrissy. She is a terrific member of our team. She is dedicated and more than proficient. We are happy to be able to offer her an opportunity like the apprenticeship program. This program has given us a real asset in Chrissy Combs,” said McDowell.

Learn more about the Idaho Department of Labor apprenticeship program at

Find out more about McDowells apprenticeship program at