Transitioning From Military Mechanic to Civilian Automotive Tech

Jul 13, 2018 ·

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You’ve watched high school students transition to tech school programs. You’ve seen friends make midlife 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 of the military.

Here are a few resources you can use and courses of action you can take to pursue a career as an automotive technician after the military.

Mechanic looking under a vehicle

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 Universal Technical Institute (UTI) graduate, described them as “separation classes” — an essential step for a healthy and successful re-entry into civilian life.

Brandon, who worked in the military as a diesel mechanic for eight years, describes the change in lifestyle from military to civilian as drastic — 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.

UTI holds the distinction of being a Military Friendly® School, meaning we have made a commitment to helping recruit and advance veterans as 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 help with the adjustment.

Because many veterans find a home base at UTI, an in-person and online community has formed. Heath cites the veterans’ room on the Lisle campus in Illinois. It’s a place to chat with other vets, get info about resources and have lunch together.

Heath says between Veterans Affairs and UTI, he received 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.21

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.20

“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 at UTI.

UTI offers a Salute to Service Grant — a 10% tuition deduction — for those who have been honorably discharged.22 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.10

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.

Mechanic working on an engine block

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 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 (military occupational specialty) or AIT (advanced individual training) 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. He says 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.6

UTI has both student-paid and dealer-paid Manufacturer Specific Advanced Training programs (MSAT). These are a great way for students to make themselves more marketable with focused learning.15

A Transition into a Civilian Career

Job Fairs and Networking

UTI has relationships with more than 30 leading manufacturers. This is part of our overall focus on helping graduates 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.1


UTI has always worked to provide resources for this transition, but in February 2017, UTI took a big step by launching the Military Service Technician Education Program (MSTEP) in partnership with BMW of North America 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.11 Any active-duty military member with command approval can apply for MSTEP.

ASE Certification

ASE 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.

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.16 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. Learning about how to become ASE certified mechanic ahead of time can avoid unnecessary delays in the future.

Make the Transition Today

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. Hear from veteran and UTI grad Ryan White about his experience:

The Automotive Technology program offered at UTI can help prepare you for the workforce as a civilian. You can graduate the program in less than a year,7 ready and confident for an entry-level role in the industry.

If you’re interested in taking the next steps toward a career you’ll love, then don’t hesitate to request more information on our website today. We’re happy to help answer any questions you might have. You can also call 1-800-834-7308 to talk to an Admissions Representative.

*Military Friendly® Schools designation applies to specific campuses. Check with the campus for details.

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

6) UTI graduates’ achievements may vary. Individual circumstances and wages depend on personal credentials and economic factors. Work experience, industry certifications, the location of the employer and their compensation programs affect wages. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.

10) Financial aid, scholarships and grants are available to those who qualify. Awards vary due to specific conditions, criteria and state.

11) See program details for eligibility requirements and conditions that may apply.

15) Manufacturer-paid advanced training programs are conducted by UTI on behalf of manufacturers who determine acceptance criteria and conditions. These programs are not part of UTI’s accreditation. Programs available at select locations.

16) Not all programs are accredited by the ASE Education Foundation.

20) VA benefits may not be available at all campus locations.

21) GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website.

22) Salute to Service Grant is available to all eligible veterans at all campus locations. The Yellow Ribbon program is approved at our Avondale, Dallas/Fort Worth, Long Beach, Orlando, Rancho Cucamonga and Sacramento campus locations.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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