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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


A valiant mission

A recent article published by Automotive News, written by Mike Colias, reported of a General Motors program honoring America’s discharged military.  The mission, named Shifting Gears, aims to train civilian soldiers in automotive repair and place them as technicians at GM service departments around the country.

There are roughly 2500 technician vacancies occurring at GM’s 4300 dealerships nationwide due to retirement and turnover. The goal of the Shifting Gears program is to match those jobs with work-ready, ex-military individuals.  “This is an effort to take someone who understands a mission and is all about integrity and accountability, who shows up to work to do a great job,” according to Mark Miller, GM’s director for dealer service and global warranty operations.

The program, which has trained 116 people so far, is based at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. About one-third of those graduates are working in GM service departments.  The mission is a “win-win” as it supports military personnel in need of employment and, long term, will help ease the industry-wide shortage of qualified service technicians.

The curriculum trains students for 480 hours over 12 weeks in areas from transmission servicing and electrical diagnosis to engine teardowns.  Through classroom, online and shop training, soldiers can begin learning within 90 days of discharge.  When coursework is completed and if hired, they are ready to handle light repairs and begin GM’s in-dealership tech training program.

Miller said GM is aware of 35 of the current 116 graduates who are now employed at GM dealerships.  “Some find jobs at other shops while others might choose not to become full-time technicians,” he said.  Automotive service technician jobs are in the top 20 based on expected growth and high-median earnings projected through 2020.  Pay levels are determined between technicians and their employers, but auto technicians earn an average of $39,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and master technicians can earn $60,000 or more.

“A lot of them get a position in the field that may not be directly at a GM dealership,” expressed Miller, “but we’re happy to fill the mission of the Army to find that soldier a good-paying job.”

Mark Chockran, general manager at All American Chevrolet in Killeen, said that his store has hired three graduates to work as techs.  Chockran claimed, “Their understanding of the technology and GM service systems puts them ahead of other candidates.”

The Shifting Gears program is a multiyear partnership project with the Army, GM, and defense contactor Raytheon Company, which for years has worked with GM on its technician training programs across the country.

Miller described the program as “still in its infancy” and said that there is the potential of expanding the training mission to other locations if the Fort Hood experiment proves to be successful.

Since actions speak louder than words, I applaud this program for its direct approach. Words like, “hire a veteran” have meaning and can be of some help, but programs like Shifting Gears promise tangible results.

Within a tight, competitive job market, it’s nice to have an “edge” or an “in” for those seeking employment. This program will give soldiers that edge and a priority consideration for open technician positions. As earlier mentioned, soldiers are already trained with many of the skills that make a good employee.  As Miller simply states, “Who wouldn’t want to employ a veteran?”

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at