Homegrown: Training the Next Generation of Manufacturers

June 14, 2016

When Toyota Motors North America wanted to find their next batch of employees, they didn’t take the normal route. They didn’t look outwards to find their new employees. Toyota looked inwards. More specifically, Toyota looked towards their own community.

The Kentucky plant is one of Toyota’s largest in the world, so it came as no surprise when the company came to the Bluegrass Community & Technical College in nearby Lexington with a plan to both hire new workers and help facilitate growth in the community.

Toyota set up the Advanced Manufacturing Program in partnership with Bluegrass in 2009 to help the next generation of workers get a head-start on their careers.

The program, which boasts a paid two-year curriculum, gives its students the knowledge to have a successful career and offer something very few schools can: a degree with little to no debt.

“I chose the Toyota AMT Program because it offered a job while going to school, affordable tuition, an opportunity for growth, and it was challenging,” said Paul Switzer, an AMT program graduate.

Students can pick from a diverse pool of manufacturers, with companies such as Link Belt Construction Equipment Co., 3M, Central Motor Wheel of America and TOPY America all located in the area for students to gain experience. The option to pick which manufacturer students want to work at is important, because it gives the students freedom to pick a company, and with it a career that interests them.

Students in the AMT Program spend three days a week working directly on the manufacturing floor. They learn the technical side of the trade by getting firsthand experience which can’t be learned in the classroom. The hands-on nature of the program readies students to jump right into a job without having to learn the ins and outs of the job, which helps both employers as well as employees.

The other two days are spent in the classrooms built in the Toyota facilities in Georgetown. In the Bluegrass curriculum, all the classes are laid out for the students. They take classes that will prepare them for the technical side, learning skills such as electricity engineering, fluid power and mechanics. But the course also prepares the workers for other aspects of a career. Mandatory classes such as public speaking and safety ensure that the students are prepared for the culture of manufacturing as well.

The fact that the program will pay its students is also a big incentive for many applicants. With the ever rising cost of college tuition, the chance to get paid while you learn a trade is a chance very few students will get. To then go out and get a job right out of school is even better.

Although workers aren’t guaranteed a job after they receive their Associates degree, the program does give them more than enough experience and knowledge, as well as the right work ethic to jump right into the workforce. Many students get offered jobs at the plants they worked at, which keeps the growth in the community, which is what Toyota wanted in the first place when they started the program.

Unsurprisingly, when other schools heard about the success of the AMT program, they wanted in. Toyota now has partnerships with over a dozen community colleges in nine different states. Toyota has been more than happy to set up these programs, with the thought that more skilled workers in the market can mean nothing but success.

Schools weren’t the only ones noticing the program either. The National Career Pathways Network named the AMT program the top career Pathway in the United States at its national conference in 2013. The win was just another accolade in a long line of praise that the programs around the country have received.

Dennis Dio Parker, a Toyota North American Production Support Center employee, has faith in the program for years to come and believes it will benefit the United States as a whole.

“The AMT program is designed to develop skilled manufacturing technicians who have no equal globally, “Parker said. “Successful graduates of the program will be the best in the world, and will play an instrumental role in helping U.S. advanced manufacturing remain No. 1 in the world.”