FORT HOOD — All 23 graduates of the Shifting Gears Automotive Technician Training Program were offered jobs Friday.
The 12-week program, a partnership between the Army, General Motors and Raytheon Company, trained soldiers leaving the military as certified GM technicians. Lithia Motors, owner of 130 dealerships nationwide, offered each graduate a job, as well as the 30 soldiers who just began the second iteration of the program.
“We have a huge need for mechanics right now,” said Ken Wright, regional vice president for Lithia. The company employs 1,400 mechanics, but needs up to 400 to meet customer demands.
“Service departments are booming across the country,” Wright said, adding the jobs will pay between $32,000 and $60,000 depending on location and experience.
Spc. Matthew Gilbert, a wheeled-vehicle mechanic with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, said he got into the program to help him transition his skills into the civilian workforce without losing income.
“It’s about advancing in the auto industry, and taking care of my (15-month-old) daughter,” he said. “Hopefully this works out.”
Typically, a new hire would have to undergo the training that the soldiers completed while on active duty.
“All the heavy lifting is done,” Wright said. “I don’t even know the dollar amount of money it’s worth to us.”
Hiring these veterans sets the dealership about three to four months ahead as opposed to hiring someone new to the business, said Mark Chockran, general manager of Killeen’s All-American Chevrolet, which is owned by Lithia. Chockran visited Fort Hood with the intention to hire two veterans to round out his team of 14 technicians — five of whom are veterans.
“Compared to other auto technician programs, the support of GM and Raytheon is an unmatched product,” he said.
The biggest perk Chockran sees to these veterans training is the fact that they are trained on 14 brand new vehicles, using the latest tools available in dealerships.
“I like the maturity,” Wright said. “Also, they have the technical skills we’re looking for.”
Now, he said, it’s up to the soldiers to take the next step.
“We would hire every last one them,” Wright said. “Both classes — anywhere we have a dealership.”