military members standing in line

Programs Give Veterans a Path To Becoming Auto Mechanics

Several automakers and logistics companies offer programs to train active-duty military members to become civilian auto mechanics after leaving the service.

Each year, almost 200,000 military veterans look for work upon exiting the armed forces. However, data from the Pew Research Center shows that only one in four veterans has a civilian job lined up after leaving the service. As veterans transition to civilian life from the service, it’s important that there are enough job opportunities to make the transition easier. In a 2022 interview with CBS News, Major General Dustin “Dusty” Shultz, a two-star general with the U.S. Army, stressed that the transition from military service to civilian life was challenging.

Service members learn specific terminology and codes of behavior that may be difficult to translate into a civilian environment. As many military members join right after graduating from high school, some find it challenging to get a job that doesn’t require a four-year degree.

There’s a Worsening Auto Mechanic Shortage

A report from the TechForce Foundation, a nonprofit focused on helping students recognize the value of technical education and skilled trades, says that the number of people who finish postsecondary automotive tech training has dropped by 20% since 2020. As it stands, the need for automotive technicians – including, but not limited to, technicians trained to work on electric vehicles – is far outpacing the number of certified mechanics joining the workforce.

Not only are people keeping their vehicles for longer, leading to more repairs, but cars themselves are becoming more sophisticated. Automakers are adding driver assistance technology like crash prevention systems, lane detection, and other kinds of automation, all of which require additional knowledge when it comes time for repairs. As the number of qualified car technicians and mechanics dwindles, the effects ripple out. Not only do repairs take longer and cost more, but the safety of vehicles on the road is increasingly compromised.

However, this deficit leaves an opening that could solve a few problems at once. As the demand for auto mechanics rapidly increases, military members can undergo training while in the service to help them more easily land an automotive technician job once they leave.

a mechanic works on the wheel of a car

Companies With Mechanic Training Programs for Veterans

Several programs have been implemented by automakers to help veterans learn the skills necessary to become certified mechanics. In most cases, entering and completing these programs results in a job at a car dealership. But more than that, these programs help veterans use skills developed in the armed forces to enter the civilian job market more easily, build additional capabilities, and become more marketable for future positions.

1. Kia Veterans Technician Apprenticeship Program

In March 2023, Kia launched its Veterans Technician Apprenticeship Program, which finds and trains veterans who are interested in becoming car mechanics. To be eligible, a veteran must first pass a background check and take an automotive technical aptitude test. If they score 80 or above, they can interview at one of the Kia dealerships that has enrolled in the program.

If a dealership hires the veteran, they’ll spend 90 days shadowing an experienced mechanic. First, they’ll learn their way around some basic tasks while taking online training courses. Once the veteran understands the essentials, they can begin working on light repairs.

After those first 90 days at a dealership, the veteran will attend in-depth training at a Kia University location in either Chicago or Seattle. The automaker has plans to open a third training facility in Atlanta as well. Once they leave the training facility, the veteran goes back to work at a dealership and after three years of tenure, becomes a certified master technician.

The program charges participating dealerships $5,500 per technician, but there’s no cost for military veterans to enroll. Kia provides purchase plans for a toolkit and a rolling toolbox. Dealerships pay apprentice technicians a wage and the GI Bill offers veterans a stipend for the first year in the program.

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2. GM Shifting Gears

General Motors Co., in partnership with the U.S. Army and Vertex, launched the Shifting Gears Automotive Technician Training Program in 2014. Veterans who enroll in the 12-week program train at Fort Cavazos (formerly known as Fort Hood) in Killeen, Texas, to become certified GM technicians.

To qualify for Shifting Gears, you must be an active-duty soldier, as the program is designed specifically to ease the transition into civilian life. Since its inception, the program has graduated over 700 former soldiers.

After the 12-week training, Shifting Gears enables veterans to interview with any of the 4,200 GM dealerships nationwide.

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3. Ryder Pathway Home

In 2016, Ryder introduced Pathway Home, a diesel technician training program intended for soldiers completing their last 180 days of military service. According to Abigail Lawson, the director of recruiting at Ryder, successful completion of the program opens up plenty of employment opportunities at Ryder. The company is known for being military-friendly, hiring more than 14,000 veterans from 2011 to 2023. Of those hires, 350 graduated from Ryder’s Pathway Home program.

The 12-week course includes hands-on experience as well as online sessions. Pathway Home training includes:

  • Brake hydraulics
  • Laser alignment
  • Air conditioning maintenance
  • Tire and wheels
  • Air brake maintenance

The program has been approved by both the Department of Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning that soldiers can use their monthly housing allowance to supplement their income while enrolled.

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4. MB Drive

MB Drive is a 17-week technician apprenticeship program offered by Mercedes-Benz. Though open to everyone, MB Drive strongly encourages veterans to apply. The program is a registered apprenticeship through the GI Bill and in many cases, veterans can receive a monthly housing allowance while enrolled.

The program offers both hands-on and academic training, asserting that graduates gain over 50% of the training required to become a certified master technician. According to Mercedes-Benz, over 90% of MB Drive graduates receive interviews or job offers.

Enrollees will complete training at one of five campuses:

  • Long Beach, California
  • Grapevine, Texas
  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Robbinsville, New Jersey
  • Carol Stream, Illinois
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Training Programs Can Benefit Veterans – and a Repair Industry In Need of Workers

Beyond easing the transition from service member to civilian, these programs help veterans to develop lifelong, transferable skills. In some cases, these automotive technician training programs can lead veterans to start their own businesses. An online search for “veteran-owned mechanics” in your area will likely turn up more than a few results.

Though veterans learn to work on specific kinds of cars or trucks, learning the ins and outs of auto repair services can lead to other opportunities down the road. Plus, with the demand for mechanics so high, many are finding the compensation, job availability, and potential for career growth higher than in the recent past.