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FILE - In this March 22, 2012, file photo, workers assemble a Passat sedan at Volkswagen AG's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The German automaker is conducting a national ad campaign to attract skilled workers to fill 1,000 new jobs at the plant this year. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

A company hiring new production workers for Volkswagen has interviewed more than 300 people as it fills the first 200 of the added assembly jobs the automaker is creating in Chattanooga.

Rachel Pendergrass, an on-premise recruiter for VW contractor Aerotek, said Tuesday that people not hired now for the VW jobs are put into a pool for the future as the automaker eventually seeks to fill 2,000 new posts.

"We've got to prepare people for next year," she said at Hospice of Chattanooga during one of several job fairs the company has held for prospects. Production of a new sport utility vehicle, which is driving a $900 million plant expansion, won't start until late next year when more hiring is expected.

The new production employees will be employed by Aerotek for at least six months. After that time period, they're eligible to become VW employees, according to the automaker.

At first, the new workers will handle parts and deliver them to the assembly line that's making the Passat midsize sedan.

Rob Brabham, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of public strategies, said there's a lot of automotive-related jobs coming on line within the next couple of years. He cited the VW jobs as well as those of supplier companies.

"In the next 18 months to two years, we could have [a need for] 3,000 to 4,000 employees based in that sector," Brabham said.

For example, VW supplier Gestamp is investing $180 million and adding 510 jobs in Chattanooga.

Yanfeng Automotive Interiors has unveiled plans to invest $55 million into a Chattanooga facility to supply parts for Volkswagen and hire 325 people.

In addition, VW logistics supplier Schnellecke Logistics USA plans to hire 300 more people.

Pendergrass said Aerotek is "generally getting qualified folks" to fill the new production jobs.

If hired, workers initially will earn an average of $11.50 an hour with increases every six months along with bonus opportunities, according to VW.

Once they're hired by VW, their pay will go up. About 80 percent of production employees earn in the $20-an-hour range, the automaker said.

The company also plans to hire about 200 engineers for a new engineering and planning center in the city that's part of 2,000 new jobs it has announced. VW employed about 2,400 people in the city before it started its expansion-related hiring earlier this year.

VW officially started work on its plant expansion in January to increase the factory's size by 500,000 square feet.

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

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