Alstom has sent about 50 of its Chattanooga engineers and machine operators to its factories in Europe -- some for as long as two years -- to learn the company way to run its new plant here.
"We do have a high-tech project. We need folks in many ways who are ready to play shortstop right away," said Kurt Greene, the turbine facility's human resources director, using a baseball analogy.
The Paris-based company, which is hiring 350 workers, is spending more than $10 million on training, according to Stephane Cai, managing director of the turbine plant.
The company is ramping up its 350,000-square-foot factory to produce the world's largest gas and steam turbines for nuclear power plants as well as do retrofitting work.
Mr. Cai said some of the engineers have been sent to Europe for up to two years while operators are staying up to a year.
"It's not easy to have them in Europe," he said. "Some of them had never set foot outside the U.S."
Mr. Cai said many in the first group of employees were experienced workers recruited nationwide, including from Alstom competitors.
Future recruits likely will have less experience and be hired locally, including young graduates, he said. The company has hired about 200 people so far.
Sending some of its new hires to Europe was part of the employee recruitment process, Mr. Greene said.
"Someone had to be willing to go overseas for an extended period of time without their families," Mr. Greene said. "It's not an easy thing."
Mr. Greene, who himself came to the company from Dallas in 2008, said the aim is for employees to know Alstom's systems.
"They'll know the Alstom way," he said.
Then, they will be able to train new workers, Mr. Greene said.
"We don't send people to Europe perpetually," he said.
Tim Brown, an Alstom spokesman, said the money it uses on training is well spent.
* Design and manufacturing engineers, along with machine operators, have been sent to Alstom factories in Europe for training
* Alstom workers spent time in plants in France, Switzerland, Germany and Poland
* More than 250 man-months spent in training in Europe in 2009
"We've invested in quality workmanship," he said. "There's no better investment we make than in our people."
Mr. Greene said some employees are in Europe for such extended periods because they've got to eye products going through their life cycles.
"We don't crank these out every six minutes like an auto plant," he said. "They've got long lead times."
Alstom's plant off Riverfront Parkway on the Tennessee River near downtown is a $300 million investment, according to the company.
Alstom executives said they're ready to take part in America's nuclear revival with construction of the company's new "flagship" plant, which formally opens Thursday.
Already, the facility has a two-year backlog of business retrofitting power plant components, Mr. Cai said.
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