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New apprenticeship for GM jobs

Pilot launches at Fort Hood, with option to expand

Aug. 11, 2014 - 04:03PM   |  
The Army is partnering with General Motors and Raytheon to help soldiers go from active-duty mechanics to work for GM.
The Army is partnering with General Motors and Raytheon to help soldiers go from active-duty mechanics to work for GM. (Sgt. Margaret Taylor / Army)
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A service tech for General Motors. (Douglas Schaible / General Motors)

The Army has launched a new apprenticeship program aimed at helping transitioning vets score solid jobs at General Motors dealerships.

The program, in partnership with GM and Raytheon, is starting with a small group of mechanics at Fort Hood, Texas. However, it is poised to expand to other MOSs and posts, if deemed successful.

At least a dozen soldiers are expected to start The Shifting Gears: Automotive Technician Training Program on Aug. 4.

The program consists of a 12-week customized, on-post technician training course that includes classroom, online and hands-on technical training.

Soldiers who successfully complete the course receive career counseling, job placement help and employment assistance through the Army’s Soldier for Life program, which helps soldiers reintegrate into their communities after leaving the Army.

Graduates also will have access to available GM technician employment opportunities through the company’s authorized dealer network. The company needs about 2,500 new technicians every year working on brands that include Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac.

According to information provided by GM, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor show auto technicians earn an average of $39,000. Master technicians can earn $60,000 or more.

“Soldiers transitioning to civilian life bring exceptional training, values and experience to American communities and their civilian workforce,” said Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, deputy chief of staff for personnel, in a statement. “Properly supporting our veterans requires a team approach from the Army, other government agencies and the local community.”

The Shifting Gears program is the Army’s newest apprenticeship opportunity.

The service already offers 13 other programs, in partnership with private companies, ranging from plumbing and welding to truck driving and software programming.

The idea behind the apprenticeships is to partner with national unions and local universities to provide transitioning soldiers with the skills they need to launch their civilian careers. As a bonus, the training programs are conducted while a soldier is still on active duty.

The Army is shrinking by tens of thousands of soldiers making apprenticeship programs very popular, officials said.

The idea for Shifting Gears was born in January, said Col. Kevin Hicks, deputy director of the Soldier for Life program.

GM and Raytheon came up with the concept and brought it to the Army, he said.

The government forecasts that the automotive repair and maintenance industry is expected to add 237,500 new jobs and have a 30 percent growth rate through 2020, according to information provided by GM.

The Army chose to run the pilot program at Fort Hood because of its population of 91-series (mechanical maintenance) soldiers, Hicks said.

The first class of 15 to 35 soldiers are expected to graduate in late October, he said.

How quickly the program grows – including adding courses and expanding to other installations – will depend on how well this first cohort goes, Hicks said.

Lt. Col. Ryan Raymond, the education director for the Soldier for Life program, agreed.

“They likely will take a pause to evaluate how the pilot went and make adjustments before launching into other bases,” he said.

Part of the evaluation will include whether soldiers who are not mechanics in the Army can qualify for the course, Hicks said. For this first cohort, the Army sought mechanics who were 180 days from leaving active duty. The goal is to open the program to transitioning soldiers regardless of military occupational specialty, he said.

“Not all mechanics in the Army desire to be mechanics outside of the Army. After this initial course, we’ll see how technically proficient the soldiers have to be to start the course and see if we can expand the course to other MOSs or allow soldiers to test into it,” Hicks said.

To participate in the pilot, soldiers had to have approval from their command and successfully complete the vetting and application process run by the education center at Fort Hood, Hicks said.

Successful graduates are not guaranteed a job at a GM dealership but they will get help with job placement.

They also will have access to a custom website that shows job openings cross the GM network.

That access gives soldiers a leg up, Hick said.

“One of the things we’re finding in the employment realm is establishing that network,” he said. “In addition to having those skills, being connected to various GM human resources representatives and actual dealerships across the country is a huge step for that soldier.”

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