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2010 October 4 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Tenn. College Training Workers for New VW Plant

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Volkswagen is grooming students for possible jobs at its new Chattanooga assembly plant and the apprenticeship program, while not guaranteeing a job, pays them for some of the workplace training.

Travis Wallick is among the first students in VW’s Automotive Mechatronic Program, a training partnership with the Tennessee Technology Center at Chattanooga State Community College.

Wallick told the Chattanooga Times Free Press during a break in a class that the three-year program is a “great opportunity to work on new technologies,” even if there is no guarantee of a job.

The program includes instruction on robotics, electronics, programmable logic controllers, welding, metal working and other skill areas. Volkswagen plans to start production of a yet-to-be-seen mid-size sedan early next year and has already filled about half of its 2,000 jobs at the $1 billion plant.

While graduates don’t have a job guaranteed, the training gives them a competitive advantage toward getting hired. While training in the workplace, students receive pay that starts at $10 an hour.

Hans-Herbert Jagla, VW’s executive vice president of human resources in Chattanooga, said the apprenticeship program is off to a solid start. He said it uses the best of German and American training initiatives and rotates class time with on-the-job training.

``We want to keep our people as long as possible — 10, 20, 30 years,’’ he said.

The community college president, Jim Catanzaro, described the program as an “innovative relationship.”

“This is another opportunity to prepare a pool of workers for a sophisticated industry,” Catanzaro said.

Gary Booth, manager of training and development for VW in Chattanooga, said the students will be challenged.

Twenty students will be added to the program each year to maintain a group of 60. Grants cover the students’ costs, a Volkswagen spokesman said.

Jagla said building Volkswagens is more an art than a job.

“Our workforce has to be precise and striving for perfection,” he said.

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