published Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

VW reaches out to fill technical jobs

Workers assemble a Volkswagen Passat at the German automaker's Chattanooga, plant.
Workers assemble a Volkswagen Passat at the German automaker's Chattanooga, plant.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that although he is "disappointed" Volkswagen is using a national ad campaign to attract some of the additional professional and skilled technicians it needs from outside Chattanooga for its expansion, he understands why the company is doing so.

"We've actually had those discussions with Volkswagen, and they told us they were going to advertise in those places," Haslam told reporters. "And I think it's a reflection of what I've been saying all along. We really do have to train more students" in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Volkswagen in late March announced plans to add an additional 800 workers at its Chattanooga plant to fill out a third team to accommodate high demand for its Chattanooga-made Passat.

Some 700 of those are in production, and most are expected to be hired locally. But about 100 are higher skilled or professional positions like production supervisors, manufacturing and quality engineers, maintenance technicians and others.

Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources, Volkswagen "will hire locally as much as possible.

"But to find people with specialized automotive experience we must reach out further," he said. "I think Chattanooga will be very attractive to people from other areas of the country because of the great quality of life here."

The ad campaign uses a combination of traditional print advertising combined with Internet advertising and integration into popular online search engines and job sites. It will run through the end of July.

Scott Wilson, a spokesman for VW in Chattanooga, said that of the 800 new jobs it's working to fill, about 100 are specialized slots, including maintenance technicians, manufacturing engineers and logistics supervisors.

"We've hired these people locally, too, but I think we've drained the pool," he said. "We're having to reach out nationally."

Haslam said company officials have told him "we love being in Tennessee. Everything has been better than we expected except we really need you to produce more, qualified engineering" graduates and "other technical degrees as well."

Haslam said the state "always wants people to hire folks from Tennessee. But what we're doing is putting in action the plans, the programs that hopefully will solve the problems down the road."

Among other things, Haslam last month announced the state is giving Hamilton County Schools a $1 million grant to help start a local school focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Another $850,000 grant is going toward a "hub" between the school district, higher-education institutions, high-tech businesses and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Education Foundation.

VW already has embarked on a hands-on training initiative involving some of its most complex plant machinery at the plant.

Called the Automotive Mechatronics Program, it is to bring on at least 60 people, or 20 people each year over three years, officials have said.

"They'll learn over the three-year period how to troubleshoot and repair some of the most complicated machinery in the plant," Wilson said.

The high-paying skilled industrial maintenance workers coming from the Mechatronics program typically go straight to the top of the wage scale, or $19.50 per hour, officials have said.

Most of the jobs VW will fill this year are in production. To date, VW has hired about 95 percent of its production positions from Hamilton County, officials have said.

By the end of the year, VW expects to have about 3,500 people working at its Chattanooga plant.

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about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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