CEO Column

Jennifer Safavian | Steering the Future: How Apprenticeships and Training Initiatives Fuel America’s Auto Industry

Jennifer Safavian
May 31, 2023

For thousands of students across the country, the school year is coming to a close, and many young people are looking forward to the future with an eye toward developing careers in automotive manufacturing.

Automotive apprenticeship and training initiatives aren’t just about learning a skill; they’re additional platforms for economic mobility and provide a hands-on pathway to a career. With 93% of Registered Apprenticeship program participants finding employment within six months of completion and average annual starting wages of $77,000, these programs drive both individual success and broader economic growth.

International automakers nationwide have led in the development of apprenticeship programs as a way to offer hands-on instruction for future manufacturers. This educational model provides real-world education for students, recent graduates, and those looking to develop a new skill set, equipping the next generation of workers with the high-tech skills required by the modern automotive manufacturing sector.

Autos Drive America’s members proudly offer innovative apprenticeship and education programs that provide tremendous opportunities and benefits for trainees while simultaneously preparing our workforce to be competitive in the global market.

BMW offers apprenticeships to people at different ages and entry points, with programs for graduate students, current college students, and even high school students who are attending a technical school. BMW partners with four colleges in South Carolina for their fast-track and regular scholar programs. The BMW Scholars Program is a U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship program and one of several initiatives that BMW Plant Spartanburg is utilizing to solidify its workforce foundation in advance manufacturing/emerging technologies.

Honda partners with six community and technical colleges in central Ohio, five in Alabama, and one in Indiana to prepare students for a career in manufacturing. In 2015, Honda launched EPIC, an Ohio-based workforce development initiative to create interest in manufacturing and provide educational and training opportunities for students in middle school through college. EPIC’s goals are to create enthusiasm among middle school students, encourage passion among high school students, and promote innovative instruction at two-year colleges. This program helps build Honda’s future manufacturing talent pipeline.

Hyundai developed the Maintenance Apprenticeship Program in 2018 to provide any production team member within the manufacturing facility with the skills to become a maintenance professional. Twenty-six participants graduated from the formal training program prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily paused the program. It was relaunched in 2022 with 10 new apprenticeships beginning the 1-year program.

The Kia Georgia Training Center, operating in partnership with local educational institutions, combines academic learning and hands-on training for individuals aspiring to become automotive maintenance professionals and develop the community’s workforce of tomorrow. West Georgia Technical College’s Precision Manufacturing and Maintenance Certification Program was developed to provide a steady stream of qualified candidates, filling the ever-growing need for maintenance team members at Kia Georgia and its suppliers.

Mazda’s Alabama manufacturing facility quickly partnered with the ALAMAP Project (Alabama Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program) when they announced their facility in the state. The partnership focuses on addressing the manufacturing skill gap by expanding industry-recognized apprenticeships through a three-tiered approach, involving: (1) Quick-Start pre-apprenticeships that lead to nationally recognized Manufacturing Skill Standards Council certifications and prepare individuals for in-depth apprenticeships or entry-level employment as a certified production or logistics technician; (2) Short-term apprenticeship programs (referred to as ALAMAPs), which are embedded in a variety of traditional career and technical education programs supporting advanced manufacturing, and which result in a short-term certificate, long certificate, or associate’s degree; and (3) Comprehensive FAME apprenticeships, which are 21-month advanced manufacturing technician (AMT) programs that lead to an associate’s degree and a career as a multi-skilled advanced maintenance technician in advanced manufacturing.

Mercedes’ (MBUSI) TECH program prides itself on offering technical skills as well as teaching leadership tools. In 2011, MBUSI initiated discussions with Shelton State Community College for the development of two student training programs: Industrial Maintenance Mechatronics and Mercedes TECH. In early 2011, MBUSI enlisted the assistance of experienced technical training masters from Germany to support the development of both programs. From this initial approach, MBUSI expanded the student opportunities in 2021 with a partnership with West Alabama Works and area secondary school systems to support the implementation of a high school apprenticeship through a program called Modern Manufacturing (MM). This program promotes manufacturing and provides an opportunity for students to be exposed to and learn the basic skills that they will need to start a career in manufacturing. Mercedes now partners with four community colleges across Alabama in conjunction with their manufacturing plants.

Nissan partners with the College System of Tennessee to create robust educational opportunities at its Tennessee facilities. Nissan North America began accepting its first students at the Smyrna Campus and Nissan Training Center in 2017. The technical training center is jointly occupied by the college and Nissan, representing a public-private partnership between Nissan and the College System of Tennessee to create educational opportunities that are closely aligned to current workforce needs in the region and to offer high-quality programs to prepare students and Nissan employees for careers in advanced manufacturing and other fields.

Subaru’s recently-opened technical training center in Indiana provides comprehensive instruction on the company’s manufacturing systems, reflecting the importance of continuous learning and adaptation in an ever-evolving industry. Subaru’s Team Leader Technical Training program was developed in February of 2021 to train Team Leaders on the fundamental components of Subaru’s vehicles. Subaru made a strategic decision to ensure trainees can demonstrate how their work impacts customer satisfaction, third-party safety standards ratings, and actual vehicle safety. This process allows Team Leaders to pass the same in-depth knowledge to associates and ensure everyone understands the importance of safety in the assembly of a Subaru vehicle.

Toyota is preparing its future workers for in-demand careers through apprenticeship programs like FAMEUSA and Toyota T-TEN. FAME is an employer collaborative that consists of a two-year industrial degree known as the Advanced Manufacturing Technician program. AMT trains students of all ages and backgrounds—from recent high school graduates to those interested in transitioning into manufacturing, to longtime manufacturing employees wanting to advance their career. T‑TEN is a partnership between community colleges and vocational schools that provides state‑of‑the‑art, hands‑on automotive diagnosis and repair training with an emphasis on skills needed to succeed in the automotive industry.

Volkswagen sets a high standard with its Volkswagen Academy apprenticeship programs. Launched in 2018, the Mechatronics Akademie and Robotronics Technology Apprenticeship Program is aimed at potential students and parents. The academy is a partnership between Chattanooga State Community College, Hamilton County Schools, and Volkswagen, and aims to develop a talent pipeline for the automaker as it transitions to building more electric vehicles.

And finally, Volvo Car U.S. Operations started the Multi-Craft Technician Apprenticeship Program in 2019 to fill 63 open maintenance positions for the launch of the EX90 production in Ridgeville, South Carolina. Volvo now offers a two-year U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) certified apprenticeship in partnership with East Coast Polytechnic Institute (ECPI). ECPI has long been a strategic partner of Volvo and provides the knowledge-based portion of the two-year program, as well as continuing education for Volvo employees who wish to advance their studies while working at Volvo.

With the automotive industry in the midst of rapid transformation, we need a workforce that’s ready for the challenges and opportunities of today. Autos Drive America member companies are demonstrating that apprenticeships and training initiatives can provide the driving force necessary to develop the next generation of workers. It’s now up to policymakers, educators, and the industry at-large to amplify the reach and impact of these programs, ensuring that the U.S. automotive manufacturing industry has a globally competitive workforce prepared to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing automotive sector.