I’ve written in previous blogs that employers and HR professionals in the manufacturing and cyber security industries should incorporate transitioning military veterans as part of workforce planning.  Now I am prodding the mechanical and automotive industry to do the same.

USA Today recently published an article entitled “Serious Shortage of Skilled Auto Mechanics Looming” in which it described the dual problem facing this industry:  master mechanics are nearing retirement age and young people are not pursuing training in the automotive trades.

The demand for skilled mechanics is expected to increase 17% between 2010 and 2020.  Today’s technicians need to know more than how to turn a wrench and swap out parts.  With hybrids, electric cars and advanced clean diesel engines growing in popularity and most new cars having complex electronics and computer-controlled systems installed, you have to have an aptitude for technology as well.

Once again, I think drawing from the pool of transitioning military for these types of jobs could be an excellent way to develop a pipeline of talent.  Each military service has all types of mechanics and technicians who have been extensively trained and can troubleshoot and repair vehicles, trucks, tanks, missile systems, complicated electronics, security devices, engines, and marine and aviation equipment.

At a workshop I did recently the mother of an enlisted soldier shared a story about her son’s transition from the military.  He had been a tank system technician, and returned home seeking to find a job as a mechanic.  When he stopped in to his local automotive repair shop to inquire if jobs were available, the owner started laughing when the soldier described his military experience.  He took the young man by the shoulder and pointed to the maintenance bays and staging area.  “Do you see any tanks out there, son?  Well, just as soon as I get one, I’ll give you a call.”

What I really want civilians to understand about the military is that we not only have skills that the military has taught us, but we also have an aptitude to learn quickly.  The reason that young man became a tank mechanic is not because his daddy taught him how to repair tanks under a shade tree in his back yard when he was a young boy.  The Army offered him the opportunity to learn tank repair because the results of his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) revealed that he has a high aptitude for mechanical maintenance and general technical work.  He was likely offered several career options as a repair technician for an array of the Army’s inventory of vehicles, systems and equipment – regardless of what he chose, the military would have trained him to perform the work.

In this case, the military taught him how to perform maintenance on the suspension, steering, hydraulic, auxiliary power, fire extinguisher/suppression and gas particulate systems of a tank.  So, yes, a Toyota Prius is not built the same as a M1 Abrams tank, but with some fast-track classroom and on-the-job training, I guarantee that military member could learn how to troubleshoot and repair a Prius in a shorter amount of time than it would take to train the average civilian off the street.  This is what I mean when I say “military veterans are trainable“.

Money is available to companies that desire to develop on-the-job training programs for veterans.   You can take advantage of your state’s Workforce Investment Act funding for job training, or you can structure the program in such a way that it is approved for the service member to use his/her GI Bill benefit to pay your company to be trained to take a position.

If you have questions on how to find money to create OJT programs, or any question on how to recruit or retain veterans, I encourage you to attend an upcoming “Ask the Military Recruiting Expert” session. It is free and is offered twice a month, via web seminar.