Hiring Our Heroes Starts with Educating Them


Picture this: One million people or more, all who have served their country, in need of jobs. According to the Hire Our Heroes Program, a national non-profit organization that matches veterans with available jobs in the automotive industry, and an article entitled “Hiring Veterans in the Automotive Industry” on the AutoCare Career Hub, that’s the number of military personnel we can expect to be returning stateside in the next five years due to the drawdown in Afghanistan and a shrinking Pentagon budget.

These dedicated men and women will come back looking for steady civilian work. And it makes sense that some of them will turn to the world of automotive. After all, the automotive industry is continuing to expand into new markets and develop new technologies. Vehicle-related companies from manufacturers to repairs to fleet maintenance are looking for new blood to bring into their employee pool, especially specialized jobs that require technical training.

The question is, who bridges the gap between military members returning stateside in need of jobs and automotive companies in need of trained personnel? The answer: an educational organization like Universal Technical Institute.

Since its foundation in 1965, UTI has been offering technical education training for students seeking careers in entry-level automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. That’s a broad range of training options for anyone who enjoys the challenge of working with advanced mechanical objects like cars and engines. It can be a good fit for military veterans in search of a career change, as John Decoteau, vice president Military at Universal Technical Institute, explained.

“Technical schools like UTI offer practical, high-tech and industry-specific training that is simply not available at many traditional community colleges or four-year universities,” Decoteau said. “In addition, UTI is one of more than 1,600 educational institutions to have earned the distinctive Military Friendly Schools designation. To be deemed Military Friendly, a school has to exhibit best practices and leadership in recruiting and supporting post-military students. UTI has been awarded the honor for four straight years.”

One of the ways UTI makes itself particularly friendly to veterans is by offering a specialized admissions staff to help veterans who apply to the training programs. Many of UTI’s military admissions representatives are U.S. veterans themselves, Decoteau said. They have the background needed to understand what military members are going through when they return to civilian life. They also are specially trained to meet the needs of potential students who are veterans.

All 11 UTI campuses have VA advisors on staff. Even UTI’s board of directors has a military presence.

“Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox, Jr., currently serves on the Universal Technical Institute, Inc., board of directors,” Decoteau said. “Dr. Lennox retired as the 56th Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point following his 35-year career with the United States Army.”

That’s an impressive set of laurels to draw upon when advising UTI regarding its military student population.

All in all, UTI works hard to provide a good environment for military personnel and family members who want an automotive career. The institute maintains close relationships with approximately 30 manufacturers, including Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Cummins and Harley-Davidson. Many of these companies actively pursue veterans as employees. That trend is not limited to automakers but also to auto service companies. Service King Collision Repair Centers, for example, recently made news for setting a goal of hiring more veterans. And other businesses are doing the same.

There are many advantages to hiring veterans, no matter the industry. Members of the military develop excellent soft skills that benefit them in civilian work, traits like discipline, desire to learn, flexibility, teamwork, communication and planning. These skills transfer well to automotive service facilities — where specialized workers with a solid work ethic are of vital importance.

“UTI’s veteran graduates are in-demand among employers,” Decoteau said. “Leading dealers know when they hire a veteran, they’re getting a hard-working, accountable and responsible technician.”

Companies actively seeking to employ veterans do so because they value their problem-solving skills and their technological knowledge, too. Dealerships, auto maintenance shops, manufacturing groups and factories all say they benefit from take-charge, tech-savvy employees, and UTI is committed to making sure students with military backgrounds have the technical knowledge they need to step into an automotive job with confidence.

Another reason many people, including military veterans, choose the automotive field is because it’s a field largely open to those who do not have a traditional college education. Instead, what is needed in the auto industry is people who can diagnose car problems, do repairs and maintenance and perform specialized services. Much of the work is hands-on, which is something else UTI takes into account when planning course studies.

Decoteau said, “Our programs are grounded in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) but geared toward hands-on learners, so they can put what they learn to practical use in successful careers. This hands-on approach is a natural fit for many veterans who developed an advanced set of technical skills while serving our country.”

The majority of their students, including those who served in the military, find this approach helpful. As many as one-fifth of the new student population each year at UTI has ties to the military.

“We’ve offered support to military vets since we opened our doors in 1965, and each year, approximately 20 percent of our new students across all UTI campuses come from the military,” Decoteau said.

UTI takes pride in how it opens opportunities for those who have cared enough to serve their country.

“We want to help our nation’s heroes get the training they need to obtain the successful civilian careers they deserve,” Decoteau said. “Our industry-specific programs fit the needs of vets, complement their existing skill sets and provide them with the skills to land not just a job, but a long-term, meaningful career.”

The overall job outlook for UTI graduates stepping into a career is sunny.

“Once vets complete their program at UTI, the career opportunities for them in the transportation industry are plentiful,” Decoteau said. “In fact, the nation will need more than 1.2 million automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine service technicians between 2012 and 2022. The industry will have an average of more than 37,000 job openings every year to help meet the need.”

UTI offers $15 million in sponsored scholarships to its students, as well as industry-sponsored programs and grants to help eligible students. There are also military scholarship programs especially for veterans to help reduce the cost of tuition by as much as 10 percent. Veterans are also eligible for UTI’s regular financial aid, scholarship and tuition reimbursement programs.

Decoteau said UTI offers specialized services designed to help those who have served our country build on the skills they gained while in uniform and transition from life in the military to stable, rewarding civilian careers. Thus, UTI offers VA health and benefits fairs, veterans clubs and socials on many of their campus. This support is expanding so soon every UTI campus has a Veteran Center where veteran students can connect with one another and get access to services.

The support doesn’t end with admission or class work.

“We work closely with military-friendly employers and veterans’ organizations to help our graduates find jobs as service technicians in organizations where they can build meaningful careers,” Decoteau said. “Our graduates tell us they love their jobs, they’re excited to go to work every day and feel they make a difference. They say they can’t imagine sitting behind a desk. With UTI, they have found fields that fit their skills and their passions.”