Volkswagen Chattanooga Celebrates Inaugural Graduation of Automation Mechatronic Apprentices

Trainees are first in the US to receive German Vocational Training Certificate

Volkswagen Group of America, Chattanooga Operations, LLC (Volkswagen Chattanooga) celebrated the inaugural graduation class of the Volkswagen Academy Automation Mechatronics Program (AMP) in a ceremony that highlighted the German ‘dual education’ system and featured the first Americans to ever earn certification from the German Chambers of Commerce program, which certifies the graduates to work in Germany and around the world.

“For our team to build top quality cars, our electrical and mechanical systems must function perfectly,” said Frank Fischer, CEO and Chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga. “These students are now trained with a passion for detail that is crucial to our success and we are eager for them to join our skilled team of experts,” Fischer said.

A dual education system combines vocational classroom education and paid on-the-job training in one course. The focus of the Automation Mechatronics Program is to develop multi-skilled craftsmen who are responsible for keeping the Volkswagen plant operational. Students receive hands-on-training in mechanical systems, electricity, electronics, machining, welding and automated systems among other disciplines.

“I want to thank Volkswagen for establishing this valuable program, and I applaud all of the academy graduates on their achievement,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said. “In Tennessee, we’re focused on making sure we have the skilled workforce to fill the jobs of the 21st Century by working with the private sector to align its needs with the graduates we’re producing, and this program is a great example of students being trained for jobs available today.”

The AMP is a three-year program that Volkswagen Chattanooga partners with Chattanooga State Community College to produce in the cutting edge 163,000 sq.ft Volkswagen Academy. The Academy was built with $40 million assistance from the State of Tennessee. Students are selected through a competitive admissions process and twenty-four students are admitted to the AMP each year (12 in the summer and 12 in the fall).

“For centuries German companies have provided comprehensive vocational training to ensure the development of a skilled workforce of tomorrow and it is very rewarding to see Volkswagen Chattanooga continue this tradition here in the United States,” said Martina Stellmaszek, President and CEO of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S.

“By becoming the first program in the U.S. to be fully accredited by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) together with the German American Chambers of Commerce (AHK USA), Volkswagen’s Automation Mechatronics Program is at the forefront of establishing quality standards for vocational training which will have a positive impact on local economies and communities,” Stellmaszek said.

Companies throughout the nation cannot find enough machinists, robotics specialists and other highly skilled workers to maintain their factory operations. So even as millions of Americans search for work, it is estimated that 600,000 skilled jobs remain unfilled.

“Volkswagen Chattanooga is committed to the development of our workforce, and we are proud that our students are the first Americans to be certified by the German Chambers of Commerce in Mechatronics,” said Sebastian Patta, Vice President of Human Resources. “Volkswagen understands that a well-trained workforce that produces high quality products creates further economic prosperity for all.”

These types of programs have a long history in Europe, and are seen as effective education models to transfer knowledge and skills to the next generation of practitioners in all industries. In fact, two of the students have opted to participate in Volkswagen’s Wanderjahre program that offers work in a Volkswagen factory in Germany to further develop their skills.

In these programs, the principle is learning by doing. The participants split their time between classroom-simulation laboratories training and working on the production floor. This mix of the theoretical and the practical is ideal for fully transferring knowledge and experience and allows the company to ensure that its standards are maintained over time.

Ian Gwaltney delivered the valedictory speech of the inaugural class of the Volkswagen Academy Automation Mechatronics Program. He also participated in the successful Skills USA competition in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, his Skills USA team won the Tennessee post-secondary state gold medal (1st place) and the National post-secondary bronze medal (3rd place). In 2013, his team finished first in the state and 2nd nationally.

The salutatorian was Caleb Higginbotham who also spoke at the ceremony and participated on the winning 2012 Skills USA team from the Volkswagen Academy with Gwaltney.

For more information or to enroll in the Volkswagen Academy, please visit: http://www.chattanoogastate.edu/engineering-technology/partnerships/vw-academy/

About Volkswagen Chattanooga

Volkswagen has invested $1 billion in the local economy for the Chattanooga plant and has created more than 5,000 jobs in the region. According to independent studies, the Volkswagen plant is expected to generate $12 billion in income growth and an additional 9,500 jobs related to its investment. The Chattanooga manufacturing facility builds the all-new Passat Sedan, specifically designed for the North American market and winner of the Motor Trend magazine 2012 Car of the Year award. In 2012, it produced more than 152,400 Volkswagen Passats. Volkswagen Chattanooga is the first and still only car factory worldwide with a LEED Platinum certification. It is also certified according to ISO 14001 for its environmental management system and according to ISO 50001 for its energy management system.