VW Chattanooga ramps up training for electric vehicles, robotronics

Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Visitors applaud during the launch celebration for the Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV at the Chattanooga Volkswagen assembly plant on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.

With electric vehicle sales surging, Volkswagen Chattanooga is starting up a new training program that will focus on battery-powered autos to create a contingent of employees versed in the entire system.

"EVs are more sophisticated, have more control units, a higher degree of electrical connections," said Burkhard Ulrich, senior vice president of human resources at VW Chattanooga. "We need employees who know the whole system."

The move is one part of a scaling up of the Volkswagen Academy's apprentice training efforts in which it's aiming to recruit 48 new people to fill open slots, up sharply from its typical 16-person cohort, according to VW.

The academy is seeking 36 apprentices in its existing Robotronics Program, in addition to the 12 for the new EV initiative. Both are two-year training programs.

Ulrich said in an online interview that robotronics training is mainly focused on equipment and the many robots that operate in the production plant where the ID.4 electric SUV is assembled along with the conventionally powered Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs.

"We see strong demand for skilled team members and equipment operators," he said.

Graduates of the EV Program may work, for example, in the plant's quality area or pilot hall, which is where production of a new vehicle model is perfected, Ulrich said.

In April, Volkswagen posted higher first-quarter U.S. sales on surging demand for the SUVs built at the automaker's Chattanooga plant, including the electric ID.4. Sales of the battery-powered vehicle rose 254.2% in the quarter over the same period a year ago to 9,758.

Additionally, VW's high school program, the Mechatronics Academy, will increase its number of available seats for juniors and seniors this fall from 24 to 50, according to the automaker. The Mechatronics Academy is a partnership between Volkswagen, Chattanooga State Community College and Hamilton County Schools.

Two more Hamilton County high schools, East Ridge and Howard, will add a direct bus route in the fall to the Volkswagen Academy. They'll join Central, East Hamilton, Ooltewah and Tyner high schools.

According to VW, more than 200 apprentices have graduated from the academy since 2013 and about 75% continue to work there.

Academy apprenticeships are full-time, dual-education programs that combine vocational classroom education with paid on-the-job training. After a two-semester probationary period, apprentices earn up to $19 per hour, the company said.

The Robotronics Program was implemented in 2018 in response to the increase in automation in manufacturing. The curriculum is based on manufacturing principles including robotic technologies, engineering design processes, manufacturing technologies, information technology network programming and troubleshooting and maintenance.

Steffi Wegener, assistant manager of training and development for VW in Chattanooga, said in a March interview that the programs are "a wonderful talent pipeline" for the company.

"We need more and more people with that skill set in the future," she said.

Workforce development has been a topic for VW since day one in Chattanooga, where it employs more than 4,800 people, she said.

"That's ingrained in our business," she said.

To apply for Volkswagen Academy apprenticeships, go to bit.ly/vwacademy2023.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.