Best practices: MBUSI hopes to secure highly skilled workforce with new certificate program

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Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) is continuing its role as an innovator in the workforce development space.

Already home to a two-part apprenticeship program, this fall MBUSI, in partnership with Lawson State Community College, will launch the new Mercedes Tech Certificate Program as MBUSI continually looks to find ways to fill its workforce pipeline. Lawson State, with campuses in Birmingham and Bessemer, is the most recent community college MBUSI has partnered with.

MBUSI opened in 1997, producing one vehicle model. It now produces four models, at a rate of slightly over 300,000 units total per year, said Steve Colburn, human resources specialist at MBUSI and the coordinator of the Mercedes Tech Certificate Program. With MBUSI set to produce the fully electric SUV, increased skills in the shop are a must, he said.

“After several years, people start to retire, and we’re losing some of those skillsets,” Colburn said. “The program was developed to help raise the number of incoming students to keep up with the need in the shop.”

The certificate program, which is currently accepting applications until the end of May, focuses on preparing enrolled students for those production jobs and preparing future production leaders. MBUSI will donate two vehicles to Lawson State, where students accepted in the program will take classes Monday through Wednesday and then work at the MBUSI plant Thursday, Friday and sometimes Saturday the first three semesters of the program. The program is four semesters in length, with the final semester reserved for full-time work at the plant.

“There is an end result expectation for all of the students to be the best,” Colburn said. “The best in teamwork, the best in quality, the best in skill level, the best in interpersonal skills and the best at being professional. It’s a lot of commitment to be at that level, and once they’re out we really need these students to step up and be in leadership roles in the future.”

In addition to $16 hourly with pay increases after the third semester, students’ tuition is 65 percent paid for by MBUSI the first semester, and, if students achieve a 3.0 grade point average or higher, tuition is 100 percent paid for the remainder of the program. The hope is that most if not all graduates of the program will eventually work full-time at MBUSI, where the starting salary is $17.25 hourly plus benefits, increasing every six months for five years.

“We want to increase the skill level of entry-level production team members and help them get a jump start on being future leaders in our production operations,” said Jason Hoff, president and CEO of MBUSI. “Lawson is a welcome addition to our growing number of community colleges helping to grow our future workforce.”

Programs like this are examples of co-op and alternate training opportunities, encouraged in the Building (it) Together labor analysis report, released last summer. The program is open to anyone interested in vehicle technology, Colburn said, and he hopes to have 30 in the inaugural class beginning this fall.

“If they have shown commitment, worked hard to maintain good grades in their coursework and did what they’re supposed to do performance-wise on the shop floor, they’ll have a career waiting on them at the end of the day,” Colburn said. “We want to see students be successful and see them go on to have a successful career at MBUSI.”

Click here for more information and to apply. The application closes at the end of May.