Eyeing future hiring and expansion at its Chattanooga plant, Volkswagen is partnering with a pair of higher education institutions to create a new degree program.
"We want to expand our operations here as soon as possible," said Hans-Herbert Jagla, VW's executive vice president of human resources in Chattanooga. "It will depend on the market and it will depend on our innovation."
VW, Chattanooga State Community College and Tennessee Technological University are joining to create a new bachelor of science degree in industrial technology to train workers for the German automaker, its suppliers and other manufacturers, officials said.
All classes will be offered at the assembly plant's Volkswagen Academy, where VW does much of its employee training. Plans are to have 20 students enrolled this fall, according to officials who unveiled the program Wednesday at the $1 billion factory.
Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro said the degree program is a natural extension of its existing training efforts with VW.
"We'll be preparing a superior work force for VW and other manufacturers," he said.
Tennessee Tech President Bob Bell termed the initiative "a leading-edge and prototype degree." He said its students need to be grounded in "the real world. They need grease under their fingernails."
The degree announcement comes as a report out of Germany says the automaker is mulling Golf production in the U.S., where VW just marked the official opening of its only assembly plant in the country in Chattanooga. The new plant is producing VW Passat cars.
Volkswagen's top labor representative, Bernd Osterloh, said Tuesday that management is considering some Golf models in the U.S. instead of exporting them from Germany, according to daily regional newspapers Wolfsburger Allgemeine and Braunschweiger Zeitung.
VW officials locally had no comment on the report.
Concerning the new degree program, the so-called "2+2 agreement" calls for a seamless articulation of education and training through the two schools. Students will earn an associate of applied science from Chattanooga State and transfer to the bachelor's degree program from Tennessee Tech, similar to the agreement Chattanooga State has for other programs with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Jagla said the VW Academy already is a model for the automaker. He noted VW and Chattanooga State are working in the Automotive Mechatronics Program, which trains people to work on and repair the high-tech robots and other complex systems at the plant.
"Our experience from the mechatronics program motivated us to expand educational offerings," he said.
Jagla said the new degree will "really meet the future needs of the region for the auto industry."
VW employees will be among the first students accepted into the degree program, for which classes begin Sept. 6.
Gary Booth, manager of training and development for VW in Chattanooga, said officials are thinking long-term.
"It's all about our future," he said.
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, cited the initiative's articulation agreement, which ensures an efficient class transfer process between the schools.
Jack Matens, chairman of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association's education committee, said the degree program "opens all sorts of doors to people locally."
VW's new plant now employs more than 1,700 workers, and a staffing company it hired is taking applications for 300 more contract employees.
The plant has capacity to produce 150,000 cars annually when it is fully operational next year.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.