Best practices: Mercedes-Benz’s apprenticeship programs seek to fill workforce pipeline

Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz U.S. International

Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz U.S. International

As the automotive industry grows in Alabama, there is higher demand for a larger workforce in the industry, and ways to find potential hires can be challenging.

Though low unemployment rates are good news for the state of Alabama and its people, it can be a challenge for large companies like Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) to fill its workforce pipeline, said Jason Hoff, president and CEO of MBUSI.

One approach MBUSI is taking to recruit quality team members is a two-part apprenticeship program, which serves to fill long-term needs in the plant and produces a pipeline of people every summer that are ready to work, Hoff said.

MBUSI’s Mercedes Tech Program provides students with the fundamental skills associated with Mercedes-Benz vehicle technology, interspersed with leadership skill training. Starting pay is $16 per hour with raises at the third and fifth semesters of the program. And its Mechatronics Program combines mechanics and electronics training, in addition to mechanical, electrical, computer and control engineering components.

“We are developing young leaders and students right out of high school or college to get ready for jobs in the automotive industry,” Hoff said.

Students in both programs attend classes at nearby Shelton State Community College while also working at the MBUSI plant. MBUSI pays for over half of students’ tuition, and in the final semesters of the program, the company pays 100 percent of tuition costs if students maintain over a 3.0 grade point average.

How many jobs MBUSI is able to create in the area, including full-time jobs obtained after completing one of the two apprenticeship programs, is a metric of success for the company.

The Building (it) Together labor analysis report, released this summer, recommends that co-op and alternate training opportunities should be expanded, including apprenticeships like those found at MBUSI, for Birmingham to strengthen in existing industries. To help students connect to its apprenticeship programs, MBUSI has a presence in community colleges and high schools throughout the area, said Hoff.

“We want to make sure people coming out of these areas know what different jobs are available,” he said. “It’s pure advertising. We let them know the automotive industry offers these kinds of jobs, you need this skill set and we offer programs to provide the skill set.”

The company recently celebrated 20 years in Alabama and has over 3,700 full-time employees. MBUSI is currently building two facilities, a Global Logistics Center and an after-sales North American hub, in Bibb County in the Birmingham metropolitan area as part of a $1 billion expansion in Alabama that will create 600 new jobs in the region.