Global corporations are looking to community colleges to help train employees in the United States. One example is the work being done at Chattanooga State Community College, in Tennessee, in partnership with Volkswagen. The three-year program that train students to use specific Volkswagen operating procedures are reporting success, with 25 graduates already, and two classes of 12 students set to begin in the fall. There are currently 63 students in the apprenticeship program.
How Volkswagen Academy works
Students are recruited from high schools and job fairs to participate in a program consisting of three trimesters per year. All instruction takes place in a training building adjacent to the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga. Five trimesters are academic, and four are hands-on paid training. Classes are six hours per day. The pay rate for training starts at $10 for the first trimester and then increases by $1 per trimester Graduates who are offered jobs in the Volkswagen factory could earn in the low- to mid-$40,000s upon graduation.
How the apprenticeship program started
In 2009, Volkswagen contacted Chattanooga State to train employees for the automaker’s new plant because of the college’s reputation for vocational one-year training for other large companies, such as Tennessee Valley Authority (electricity supplier) and Dupont.
The Volkswagen Academy’s three-year program went through a one-year review with the Tennessee board of regents. The program is centered on the German curriculum and Volkswagen standards. After Chattanooga State and Volkswagen representatives conducted initial interviews of qualified applicants, medical evaluations, background checks and drug screenings were done on-site at the Volkswagen factory.
Why other companies and colleges should consider starting similar programs
When creating a program like this, students are directly trained for a company’s operating procedures and systems. In this case, students who graduate from the program know the systems Volkswagen uses, such as Siemens PLC and Fanuc robotics.
Ralph Gwaltney, Chattanooga State Community College Volkswagen program director, shares his tips for colleges that are looking to ramp up their own apprenticeship programs.
- Spell out mutual goals with partners. The college and the company need a collaborative agreement detailing participation in funding, recruitment, curriculum development and equipment. The first step in creating the Volkswagen Academy was the development of a memorandum of understanding between both parties.
- Set student expectations. Students need to know what’s required academically and for employment. They also need to be fully briefed on job-placement opportunities.
- Be flexible. Changes occur. In 2012, a one-time summer cohort was added and the new program was started. As the plant expands, more changes can be expected.
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