The Revival of Car Manufacturing through Community Colleges

Auto manufacturing is coming back in the U.S., with more training programs at community colleges to help fill the worker gap.
When the economy went south in 2008, car manufacturers were one of the biggest industries to feel the pinch.  Four years later, the industry is slowly but surely rebounding, but without the skilled workforce it needs to properly rebuild. According to many recent reports, the solution to the worker shortage appears to be community colleges; more specifically, in community colleges across the country that are partnering with major auto manufacturers to make sure the skilled workers are ready and able to take the jobs that are currently open and waiting for them.

Major Companies Partner with Schools
 
Higher education apparently makes strange bedfellows from time to time, with the latest auto manufacturing collaboration coming from some unlikely allies. The Huffington Post reports that Ford, GM and Toyota are teaming up with other manufacturers to create a training curriculum that will meet the needs of the entire industry. The curriculum will specifically be geared toward community colleges, particularly those in Michigan – the auto manufacturing capital of the country that could use an economic boost since the recent recession.
 
These new auto training programs will be broad enough to encompass the products of all the various manufacturers, while specific enough to bring students right from the classroom to the assembly line. Studies will focus on helping students compete on a global level, using skills that will translate from one manufacturer to another with relative ease. The joint effort between the auto makers ensures that every piece of the curriculum will be relevant to the entire auto industry in the United States.
 
“I think it is unusual,” Dennis Parker, an assistant manager for Toyota’s North American Production Support Center in Georgetown, Kentucky, told the Huffington Post. “It represents a new level of U.S. manufacturing working together in areas where it has meaning to work together, to give us a stronger manufacturing stance as the rest of the world becomes more competitive with us.”
 
The Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative
 
The efforts are a part of the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative, founded by Toyota and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in 2005. The location was chosen at the time because Kentucky is home to Toyota’s largest manufacturing plant in the U.S. However, since that time, the collaborative has added GM and Ford to the partnership, broadening the need for qualified training in other areas of the country as well.
 
Although the collaborative began somewhat slowly, the addition of partners, as well as a grant from the National Science Foundation, have helped fuel the fire. This year, the new curriculum that includes mechanical, computer, control, electrical and software engineering will make its debut at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan.
 
“In southeast Michigan, where we’ve really been hit hard by the economy, we’ve really been growing…trying to stay abreast,” Gail Mee, president of Henry Ford Community College, told the Huffington Post. Mee describes recent changes in the auto industry as a “remarkable kind of cultural transformation inside the manufacturing workplace.”
 
More Maintenance Training Needed
 
Manufacturing isn’t the only area where the auto industry is relying on community colleges to provide additional skilled workers. As auto technology becomes more complex, training is needed at higher levels to prepare technicians for the job of maintaining and repairing vehicles already on the road. To that end, Toyota recently met with around 100 community college instructors from across the country to discuss how to train up the next generation of auto technicians, according to a report in the Farmington Daily Times.
 
The recent meeting is a part of Toyota’s Technical Education Network, better known as T-Ten. This collaboration was designed by the auto maker to ensure training at community colleges is on par with the needs of the auto industry. T-Ten meets every six months for the purpose of professional development.  The location is rotated to ensure everyone in the network gets a chance to attend a meeting nearby. The meetings address the changing needs of auto technicians, as the industry becomes more technologically-based.
 
“We want everybody to be doing training at the highest level possible,” Rick Lester, technician development manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., told the Daily Times.
 
Improving Completion Rates through Automotive Training
 
Another community college is using their automotive training to improve completion rates as well. The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that Ivy Tech Community College has invested $500,000 to revamp its automotive program, updating curriculum and accelerating the program to allow students to earn certification in just one year, rather than two. The program will keep students in classes six to eight hours each day, five days a week. The shorter training program is designed specifically to improve completion rates among students who have enrolled in the automotive training program.
 
“I think this is the way of the future,” Steve Daily, Ivy Tech Kokomo Regional Chancellor, told the Indianapolis Business Journal.
 
Manufacturing Training Finding New Life
 
Other schools are revving up manufacturing programs, spurred in part by the rising needs of the automotive industry. Last year, a new manufacturing training program was launched at Oakland Community College in Michigan. The program will address the needs of the nearby manufacturing industry, which includes nearly 200 German-owned companies.
 
“The automotive industry is driving this new trend with the IT boom in the automobile, but we are seeing this ‘technical merging’ in other manufacturing industries as well,” Irene Spanos, director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County told Plant Engineering. “We are working with the employers in our region – some of the largest technology companies in the world – to ensure the workforce they need globally is qualified and trained here in Southeast Michigan.”
The revival of manufacturing - and subsequent training - is great news for prospective community college students indeed.

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