Texas Ford dealers have joined forces with the U.S. Army on a two-pronged mission: to counter the dire shortage of trained auto technicians while helping soldiers land on their feet as they transition to civilian life.
Ford's Technicians of Tomorrow accelerated career skills program launched in fall 2020 in conjunction with Fort Hood in the city of Killeen. It features more than 500 hours of classroom training, and hands-on work at the shop laboratory and at a sponsoring dealership.
The bulk of the 16-week program is taught at Central Texas College, a community college in Killeen, but students spend the third week of each month at dealership service departments shadowing top technicians and working on customer vehicles. Dealers cover the student's lodging expenses but keep any income they generate.
Program graduates earn Ford certifications in electrical, brakes, climate control and steering and suspension. The curriculum also covers shop safety, warranty fundamentals, technical writing and express service.
If a student completes the four certifications, Ford considers them chassis master certified. Once the Ford dealer and student sign an intent-to-hire letter, a state grant arms the graduate with a toolbox and tools valued at $4,000.
The Technicians of Tomorrow initiative started with three participating dealerships, and that doubled to six for the second group. The current class has 13 dealership sponsors. For now, enrollment is capped at 17 students per class. Of the participants in the first two groups, 14 have been placed in full-time jobs with Ford dealerships.
The current cohort, set to graduate at the end of August, has 17 soldiers — including the program's first female student. The next group starts Sept. 1 and will have at least 15 students.
The soldiers commit to work at one of the sponsoring dealerships, says retired Army Maj. Gen. Geoff Miller.
"We work hard during recruitment and dealer interviews to establish a good fit for the soldier and family with the future employer," he says.
An idea is hatched
The Ford program is an outgrowth of a conversation between auto dealers and officials at Fort Hood in 2016.
"Some Texas Ford dealers were at Fort Hood and mentioned that there was a crucial need for auto technicians," Miller says. "We told them we had a great fix."
Sam Pack, who owns four Ford dealerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, loved the idea of a tech training program when Miller pitched it to him.
"I was touched because, while the proposal fulfilled a need for us, more importantly, it was an opportunity for us to, in some small way, honor the military and those individuals who are sacrificing in so many ways," says Pack, who also owns Chevrolet and Subaru dealerships.
The program was seeded, in part, by $280,000 from Texas Ford dealers and Ford Motor Co. and $106,000 in state funding from Texas Workforce Solutions of Central Texas.
The students range in age from mid-20s to early 40s. Some have been in the Army three or four years, while others have served 20 years.
"They're more mature candidates," Pack says. "They generally have families, are very punctual and very disciplined."