Transitioning From Military Mechanic to Civilian Automotive Tech
You’ve watched high school students transition to trade school programs. You’ve seen friends make mid-life career changes. Your journey has been different, and so is your background.
Maybe you want to stay in the same field but are looking to do so outside the military, or maybe you want to change career directions completely.
Though it may feel overwhelming, you have many options as you transition from military mechanic to automotive technician.
As a veteran, you’re marketable in the workforce. You’ve learned about a strong work ethic, self-discipline and a team-first mentality. However, at times it can feel like you’re unprepared for life outside.
Here are a few resources you can use and courses of action you can take to pursue a career in automotive tech after the military.
Resources to Become an Automotive Technician
Transition Readiness Program
Before leaving the military, veterans typically must complete a Transition Readiness Program. This entails employment assistance, education and entrepreneurial direction, as well as financial guidance. Brandon Bolyard, veteran and 2017 UTI graduate, described them as “separation classes,” an essential step for a healthy and successful re-entry.
Brandon, who worked in the military as a diesel mechanic for eight years, describes the drastic change in lifestyle from military to civilian. Everything from the way you walk and talk to the way you keep your hair. He speaks about the structure in the service compared to the lack of structure afterward.
UTI’s Veterans’ Services
UTI works to merge these two worlds. Students must wear a clean, pressed uniform, keep their appearance neat and be professional in the way they conduct themselves. It’s a step away from “Sir” and “Ma’am,” but less drastic than, say, the transition to a four-year university where you students can wear sweatpants to class and doze off in the back row of the auditorium.
UTI holds the distinction of “Military-Friendly School,” meaning it falls within the top 20 percent of schools nationwide in terms of experience for military students.
In the military, you have a clear role every day. There is a specific chain of command. When you get out, it’s not like that,” says Heath Smith, 2016 graduate of UTI.
“The hardest part of the transition is not knowing.” Heath enlisted because he wanted to be something bigger than himself. He worked as a diesel mechanic from January 2007 to February 2015, picking up MOS (military operation specialties) designations 3521, 3522 and 3536.
“It’s a culture shock when you go in and a culture shock when you get out,” Brandon reiterates about being discharged. Luckily, UTI provides various services to assuage the shock.
Because many veterans find a home base at UTI, an in-person and online community has formed. Heath cites the vets’ room on the Lisle campus in Illinois. It’s a place to chat with other vets, get info about resources and have lunch together. The school also hosts a dedicated UTI Veterans Facebook page.
Heath says between Veterans Affairs and UTI, he got a lot of information about his options. He says he never felt overwhelmed by the amount of information though, because he knew there was someone knowledgeable nearby to whom he could direct questions.
Tuition Assistance, GI Bill and Housing Help
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is one of the best known resources for veterans to pursue further education. Depending on a few factors about your time in the service, the Post 9/11 GI Bill could cover much, if not all, of your tuition and housing expenses.
Veteran benefits through Veterans Affairs offer several advantages beyond tuition help. These include help with housing costs, help with attaining a low-cost mortgage or low-interest business loan, a year of unemployment compensation and assistance with book expenses.
“We have a team of military representatives who take the time to meet with each veteran. We break down the cost of tuition and fees and what their entitlement will or will not cover,” says April Rhodes, National Military Admissions Director for UTI.
UTI offers a Salute to Service Scholarship — a 10 percent tuition deduction — for those who have been honorably discharged. In addition, several other veteran-specific scholarships exist. A veteran student may be able to use a scholarship or grant to cover the gap of what’s not covered by the GI Bill.
UTI is among the schools that take part in the Principles of Excellence program. It also provides housing assistance to veterans via Collegiate Housing Services (CHS) in an effort to help students find affordable housing close to campus.
Education and Experience
Translate Your Skills
Culture shock is real. Everything from speaking without jargon to not using military time anymore, to having professors rather than superiors. Luckily there are ways you can translate your skills.
Let school be a way to supplement your knowledge and experience. You are not starting over. The military gave you a ton of experience; don’t downplay it. Instead, translate your military skills to civilian language. You can use a skills translator to help.
As you’re building your résumé or interviewing for a job, don’t focus so much on the specific tasks, but rather the skills that you exhibited and learned while doing those tasks.
Did you manage people? Did you deal with high-stress situations? Talk about those underlying competencies. You’ll also have to translate the language a bit. A civilian won’t know acronyms like MOS or AIT without looking them up.
Learn New Skills
Even though Heath had been working as a diesel mechanic for eight years before UTI, he learned new processes in school.
He says his instructors were at the top of their game and really promoted the hands-on teaching style. His favorite classes were the electrical ones. These skills helped him work toward being one of the lead techs at a Freightliner dealership just two years out of school.
UTI has both student paid and manufacturer paid MSAT programs (Manufacturer Specific Advanced Training). These are a great way for students to make themselves more marketable with focused learning.
A Transition into a Civilian Career
Job Fairs and Networking
UTI has connections with more than 30 leading manufacturers. This is part of their overall focus on helping graduates to find employment. Heath had a job when he graduated, thanks to his hard work and the UTI job fairs and career days, hosted on the school campuses.
UTI has always worked to provide resources for this transition, but in February 2017, UTI took a big step by launching MSTEP (Military Service Technician Education Program) in partnership with BMW of North America, LLC, and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
This first-of-its-kind training program for a premium automotive brand provides a workshop on a military base for service members aspiring to become auto technicians. After a 16- to 20-week course, participants are prepared (and well-suited) to apply for jobs in the BMW network.
ASE CertificationASE certification is a good goal to work toward after graduation, making you more marketable and increasing your potential salary progression. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence is a nonprofit organization that exists to test and certify automotive mechanics and technicians. It’s a way to level the playing field as far as qualifications within the industry.
The ASE certification is made up of two parts — a written test and two years of hands-on experience. Time spent at UTI may count toward a portion of this two-year requirement. You can take a single test, like “Engine Repair” or “Brakes” for example, or you can take several within one category and work toward Master Automobile Technician Status.
Whether you’re already out of the military and trying to find your next step or you’re planning for a future discharge, UTI can be a crucial stepping stone between working as a military mechanic and building a career as a civilian automotive technician.