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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Ilker Subasi, assistant manager vocational training technical training, presents the new Robotronics apprenticeship program to train new recruits to the Volkswagen manufacturing industry.

Updated at 6:13 p.m. on Wednesday, August 8, 2018.

You need the right people to understand the equipment.

Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant is rebooting a key training initiative as it keeps up with the technology upgrades the automaker is cramming into new vehicles.

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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Ricardo Guerrero, organizational development director at Volkswagen, begins with the general announcement of the new Robotronics apprenticeship program on Wednesday.

More computer programming, increased hands-on learning in the plant and boosting the daily teaching time will be hallmarks of the Robotronics Program, said Ilker Subasi, who is overseeing the apprenticeship effort in Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga plant is the first of Volkswagen's many factories worldwide to adopt the new training regimen, according to the German automaker.

"The complexity in the manufacturing environment is huge," Subasi said. "You need the right people to understand the equipment."

The first class of 24 students in the two-year initiative is slated to start in September as it replaces the three-year Automation Mechatronics Program that had operated since 2010 at the plant, Subasi said.

VW is paying for the Robotronics Program's tuition, and graduates will receive job offers from the carmaker if they've met the requirements of the initiative, he said.

Also, students are paid $14 per hour for work at the plant while in the program, he said. They'll start at $23 per hour after graduation, Subasi said. Plans are for a new round of 24 students to be enrolled in the program each year, he said.

Subasi cited the new five-seat version of the Atlas SUV that the 3,500-employee plant is slated to start assembling next year as the kind of vehicle requiring the new skills.

"The new five-seater leads us to a new training strategy," he said.

The curriculum will teach the use of advanced manufacturing skills involving robotic technologies, engineering design, network programming, and troubleshooting and maintenance.

The dual education effort merges classroom education with the paid on-the-job training. While the old program was 70 percent hands-on, that percentage will bump up to 80 percent, Subasi said.

"It will incorporate new, high-end technology," he said. Students who graduate from the program also will hold associate degrees from Chattanooga State Community College, Subasi said.

Nathan Lambeck, who's in the second year of the automation mechatronics program, said he thinks the Robotronics effort will offer more applicable skills for use in the plant.

"It's trying to be more focused," he said.

Volkswagen is maintaining a two-year curriculum for high school students who complete their final two years while earning credit hours toward an associate degree in mechatronics.

Solomon Bridgeman said he signed up for that program because it offers him "more opportunities and sets me up for the future."

Vanessa Moss, who teaches in the program, said the difference in students is "amazing" when they apply for a program such as what's offered at VW and they're learning "what they have a passion for."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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