Chattanooga: Training center sets standard for VW

Chattanooga: Training center sets standard for VW

March 15th, 2009 by Mike Pare in News

Volkswagen Plant<br> This image combines the Plant Rendering VW created with an aerial that was taken earlier this year.

The $40 million, state-of-the-art training center Volkswagen plans at its Chattanooga assembly plant will be the benchmark for the German automaker worldwide.

VW is "absolutely committed to provide our employees with the very best training and tools necessary to perform and execute in a world-class manner," said Jill Bratina, the company's communications director.

Plans are to offer standardized global training found in Germany and throughout Volkswagen along with customized curriculum developed by VW's local operations and Chattanooga State Technical Community College, she said.

The state, Hamilton County and VW are preparing to move forward with construction of the 100,000-square-foot Volkswagen Training Academy Center - deemed a critical part of the assembly plant's successful startup.

"They expect to have their people in place and ready to go to work like they expect their machinery and equipment to be ready," said Ray Childers, Chattanooga Manufacturers Association president.

The center's funding, already approved by the state, will flow through the city's Health, Educational and Facility Board.

That panel, which meets Friday, is expected to OK an agreement for the city's Industrial Development Board to administer the project.

Officials for the world's third-largest car company said they'd like to see the training facility ready by year's end as VW prepares for early 2011 production at Enterprise South industrial park.

Ms. Bratina said the site will hold a so-called "lean center," in which a simulated production line and other training locations will instruct workers in the VW system.

Specific instruction themes include ergonomics, just-in-time production and removal of wasteful processes, she said.

While worker qualifications are not finalized, Ms. Bratina said post-high school education is an advantage in any industry and will be for potential VW workers, too.

TRAINING A PRIORITY

Training centers similar to the one at VW's $1 billion Chattanooga plant are seen as staples for automotive manufacturers.

In nearby Smyrna, Tenn., Steve Parrett of Nissan North America said the training center for its assembly plant is about 40,000 square feet.

"It has a shop area that contains classrooms, a machine shop, welding area and robots," he said.

The center also has an electronics lab, computer training lab, and library.

In West Point, Ga., where Korean automaker Kia is building a $1.2 billion plant, a 70,000-square-foot training center opened last year.

Candidates for hire are currently going through it, said Rodger Brown, director of marketing for Quick Start, an economic development arm of Georgia's technical college system that provides work force training.

"There are a whole host of labs and classrooms they're using there," he said.

Quick Start and Kia see the center as critical to offering workers with needed skills and training, Mr. Brown said.

The Kia plant, expected to open late this year, will employ 2,500 people.

As in Tennessee, Georgia funded the Kia center as an incentive to woo the automaker.

The Kia center was estimated to cost $20.2 million. The state will maintain the facility, costing another $5.5 million over five years, according to reports.

Tennessee is paying the $40 million price tag for the VW center. The state also has agreed to commit $24 million to job training based on 2,000 workers.

Training for nonproduction positions will qualify for another $2,500 each, according to memorandum of understanding between the state and VW.

In addition, the state has agreed to provide on-the-job training for qualified workers amounting to 50 percent of their wages.

That cost is estimated at $3.4 million.

In the federal spending bill approved last week, a $380,000 earmark was approved for work force training at Enterprise South.

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said employment training will reach a higher level with the building of the VW facility.

"It will mean a lot to the community," he said.


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