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BMW turns to US military to recruit potential technicians to fill ranks

January 7, 2022
The first class has graduated from the East Coast version of the 16-week BMW Military Service Technician Education Program, part of an industrywide effort to keep up with the urgent demand for automotive technicians.
The newest version of the BMW program trains military service members at a U.S. Army base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, starting shortly before discharge, and helps them find civilian jobs as technicians at BMW dealerships in the U.S.
About 39,000 new service techs graduate from U.S. technical colleges and training programs in an average year, the National Automobile Dealers Association said. But the NADA said the industry needs 76,000 techs annually.
That’s about 29% of the total number of U.S. technicians needed to replace those who quit or retire every year. As vehicles in operation increase, that generates even more demand for technicians, the NADA said.
BMW of North America and Universal Technical Institute, which performs the actual training, initially launched the BMW military training program in 2018 at Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine Corps base in Southern California. The first class there graduated in 2019.
Including the half-dozen recent Fort Bragg graduates, the military program since 2019 has graduated a total of 106 rookie BMW technicians nationwide, said Gary Uyematsu, national technical training manager.
Around the country, lots of technician training programs recruit ex-military trainees. What distinguishes the BMW program is that classes are offered directly on the U.S. military bases, according to BMW of North America. With permission from their commanding officers, participants can even complete the program while still on active duty, BMW said.
The BMW Military STEP program is open to military members whose honorable-discharge date falls within six months of a class start date, the company said. Preference is given to candidates with a relevant military specialty, like wheeled-vehicle mechanics, technology, or avionics, or who have other prior experience as an automotive technician.
BMW said its U.S. retail channel, with 350 dealerships, has more than 7,000 technicians. But like the rest of the auto retail industry, new technicians are in big demand because of turnover, and because Fixed Operations is so important to overall dealership profitability.
Uyematsu said that historically, BMW’s technician turnover rate in the U.S. market is just under 20% on average. But he said there’s been a slight uptick since the COVID-19 pandemic, to just over 20%.
While the military pipeline is relatively new, the BMW-sponsored Service Technician Education Program has been around since 1987, Uyematsu said. In the years since, the company has helped train and place more than 7,500 new technicians at dealerships, Uyematsu said, adding that about 49% of the alumni are still working at BMW dealerships.