September 14, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Mercedes, Schools Team Up To Offer Hands-on Skills Course

Students To Learn Skills Needed for Auto Plant Jobs

By Jamon Smith
The Tuscaloosa News

TUSCALOOSA - The Tuscaloosa City School System and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International are teaming up to offer a weekend Workforce Development Academy for high school students interested in working for the automotive industry giant after they graduate.

Students enrolled in the academy will participate in applied mathematics, measurements, team building, team projects and field trips to the MBUSI plant. They’ll also participate in hands-on projects and learn about robotics.

But most importantly, the academy will give students a better chance of having their applications selected to enroll in one of MBUSI’s two apprenticeship programs in mechatronics — the integration of mechanics, electronics and computer science in the manufacturing of products — or automotive production.

“With customers wanting more features in their vehicles, there’s no end in sight to the cutting-edge technology and increasing vehicle complexity we expect in the future,” Markus Schaefer, president and CEO of MBUSI, said in a news release. “We saw this program as one way to plant the seeds to help meet Alabama’s future workforce needs in the automotive industry, as well as support the knowledge and world-class skill sets necessary for today’s technologically advanced, modern vehicles.”

Tuscaloosa City Schools Superintendent Paul McKendrick said he’s had conversations with Mercedes officials about a partnership with the Tuscaloosa Center for Technology since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in August 2011.

He said the conversations later evolved into the possibility of creating a Workforce Development Academy in addition to a partnership with the Tuscaloosa Center for Technology.

“Their need is no different than many employers in the area who are trying to get (trained) workers to do the job,” McKendrick said. “Our hope is that children will be better prepared for college and careers and likely gain employment with the manufacturing industry.”

He said the academy would be open to all seniors in the city school system. They will enroll as many seniors as they can, he said.

The nearly eight-week long academy will be held from about 9 a.m. to noon every other Saturday morning starting in mid-October.

The academy will likely be held at the Tuscaloosa Center for Technology and will be free to students. They must have their own transportation, he said.

“We’re only asking for students who are serious about this, because we don’t have time to waste on this,” McKendrick said.

The school system will provide the instructor for the class. McKendrick said the instructor and supplies should cost the system less than $15,000. The cost will be paid for with Title 1 money, provided by the federal government to help school districts serve at-risk students.

McKendrick said system officials will start working on a curriculum for the program next week.

Phil Johnston, vice president of engineering for the MBUSI plant in Vance, said the model for the academy is one that MBUSI has used for the past 15 years in Germany.

“We believe that part of the success of our European plants are because students are exposed to industry and they take the opportunities that come with it,” Johnston said. “We’re trying to adapt that model for our future workforce development here in Vance.”

Johnston said MBUSI started its mechatronics apprenticeship program at Shelton State Community College in January. That 27-month program has students spending time working in the MBUSI factories as well as in the classroom. There are now 74 apprentices in the program receiving training to become production workers and maintenance tradesmen with the MBUSI.

The second apprenticeship program MBUSI created is at the C.A. Fredd campus of Shelton State. It’s a 15-month program that’s targeted at training graduating high school seniors to work in assembly. There are 22 apprentices enrolled in that program.

“We promise that 75 percent of (people in the apprenticeship programs) will be offered full-time jobs,” Johnston said. “They’re also incentivized that if they do well as they study that we will increase the percentage of books and tuition we pay for. We offer tuition assistance and they’ll get paid while they work at Mercedes during their training.”

“It’s a good opportunity,” McKendrick said. “We think it’s a way of helping families and helping Mercedes. If the program continues to grow we think it’ll be a great model to use for other programs. It may possibly be merged into the new technology center’s curriculum.”

  • For more information, visit
  • For more state-wide press releases, click here