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An employee works on a Passat sedan at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga in this file photo

 

With Volkswagen and its suppliers needing up to 4,000 workers in the Chattanooga area in the next couple of years alone, business and education groups are eyeing the startup of an automotive academy.

"Those are just the jobs we know about today," said Rob Bradham, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of public strategies.

Bradham said the academy could mimic the Volkswagen Academy, which helps train the automaker's Chattanooga workforce. But, the automotive academy would include potential workers for the entire automotive sector doing business in the Chattanooga area, he said.

Bradham, who spoke at a Chamber Enterprise/Gateway Council meeting on workforce training, said the auto academy idea fits in with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's plan to set up a workforce development task force on the car sector which he unveiled this week.

The Chamber official said funding for an academy is unclear at this point. But, he said, officials are looking at "a pilot program of sorts" starting when the new school year begins in August.

Hamilton County Schools Supt. Rick Smith said he thinks an auto academy is "a good idea."

In terms of funding, he said that issue can be addressed by forming partnerships. Smith said the school system already has a program that connects students with businesses.

"We've got so much potential to prosper in this region," he said.

VW's assembly plant plans to hire 2,000 more workers to join the 2,400 it already employs as the company expands its factory to start producing a new sport utility vehicle in late 2016.

Also, supplier companies Plastic Omnium, Schnellecke Logistics and others in the region have announced hiring plans as well.

The Volkswagen Academy is a partnership between the automaker and Chattanooga State Community College.

Dr. Kim McCormick, CSCC's provost and vice president of academic affairs, cited the college's ties with businesses and institutions.

She mentioned a new training program the company started with Internet retailer Amazon, which has a huge distribution center in Chattanooga employing between 2,500 and 3,000 employees.

McCormick also said the college recently started offering courses at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tenn., to its employees pursuing criminal justice courses and an associate degree.

Bradham said Chamber officials see potential challenges ahead filling the automotive sector jobs, noting they want those slots filled by local people.

An auto academy could address skills specific to that industry, he said. Bradham said he foresees graduates having at least a high school education plus some sort of certification above that level.

Michael Watson, the Council's vice president of communication, said the mayor's proposed task force is "a positive step" because it would bring together key people. He said the panel could help businesses find the qualified workers they need.

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

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