Thursday, July 26, 2007
time for Toyota
By SUE WATSON
Holly Springs was the choice last week for a gathering of manufacturing and education experts who want to partner with Toyota for training of skilled workers in North Mississippi’s budding heavy manufacturing industry.
Toyota’s Dennis Parker said the company “is trying to put in place a system to hire the initial force and strengthen that force” for the Toyota assembly plant in nearby Blue Springs.
“We want this Mississippi plant to be a model plant for Toyota,” he said. “We want to draw a plan and put programs in place to develop Northeast Mississippi as a strong manufacturing sector - to strengthen manufacturing in this area.”
Toyota’s model for workforce training is already in place in other areas of the country where Toyota has assembly plants. Toyota partners with local schools, community colleges, universities, and other manufacturing partners, he said.
Parker said Toyota likes to partner closely with community colleges on a two-year degree technical program - a closer relationship than colleges are used to.
“We already have a partnership like this in other plants,” he said.
Toyota actually has two programs in its community college plan that are tailored to serve the specific needs of Toyota, he said.
“If something is good for us, it is good for other heavy manufacturing companies. We will work hard to put (a plan) in place.
“The more people we get on board (other heavy manufacturers) to support all the stakeholders, the better success we will all have.”
Toyota’s community college program consists of a general maintenance career path and a tool and die track.
The general maintenance program trains workers to be multi-skilled in electronics, mechanics, and molders as Toyota wants its workers prepared to cover all aspects of plant assembly.
Parker said the two years of general maintenance training offers maximum flexibility for the workforce and helps Toyota produce the best product at the lowest cost.
“So we ask local colleges to partner to help put in a two-year multi-skilled program,” he said.
A six semester program - fall, spring and summer semesters for two years - includes training at the plant and on campus, starting the first semester.
Students will spend all day at the plant on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and go to school all day on Tuesday and Thursday on campus in what amounts to 40 hours of work and training a week until the degree is completed.
The students will have more credits when they graduate than the typical community college degree requires, he said.
Graduates have no obligation to work for Toyota and Toyota has no obligation to hire a specific graduate, Parker said.
At the end of two years, the graduate has an associate degree, multiple skills and two year’s experience in Toyota’s world, including safety training.
“Toyota has a chance to learn what their gifts or knacks are in communication and teamwork,” Parker said.
When a student completes the general maintenance program Toyota will know a lot about the potential of the graduate for a career path with Toyota.
A six-semester tool and die program is also geared to turn out workers with high levels of skills in the trade who are also cross-trained in general maintenance, Parker said.
Other companies who want to partner with Toyota and the community colleges can put their students in the same Tuesday/Thursday classes and send their students to their respective plants on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Parker said. That plan would offer maximum flexibility for other heavy manufacturing partners.
Graduates of the Toyota training program have three potential career possibilities, Parker said. The first three levels involve team member and team leader roles. Level 4 is for supervisors or managers and Level 5 offers Shop or Plant positions. Toyota has 16 plants in North America, some with shops and with large groups whose responsibilities cover all plants.
As a plant nears the production stage, Toyota usually will announce a plant expansion and the plant may not get out of the growth stage for several years - 10 or 11 years as was the case for the plant in Georgetown, Ky.
In the first wave of hires at the Blue Springs plant, about 170 skilled general maintenance and tool and die workers will be brought on. Of those, about 140 will be team members or team leaders.
Down the line as expansion levels off, Toyota will be replacing laborers lost by normal attrition.
Parker said Toyota has a high retention level of skilled workers because a new plant hires lots of employees initially at start up. Some time down the line, there will be a large exodus of retiring workers and another large training effort is required to replace them.
Since Toyota is intricately linked to its suppliers, the same pattern will play out at supplier plants. Toyota’s supplier companies will be offered the same development and training program, Parker said.
Community colleges on the radar screen for Toyota’s training program are Northwest, Northeast, Itawamba and East Mississippi community colleges, he said.
Toyota already has a five-year-old relationship with Northwest, Northeast and Itawamba, he said.
Toyota also hires experienced skilled workers so not all hires will come from the college co-operative programs. Over time and depending on the success of the college co-ops, Toyota will hire more from these programs, Parker said.
Toyota will offer a master’s type advanced training program for those graduates of the two-year trades program. The advanced programs will be for those who go on to become an intern. The six-month intern works full-time with a skilled maintenance group and after completion of the intern, they are considered for full employment, Parker said.
For those who want to advance further, Toyota will offer a four-year degree program either in business or in technical engineering.
Toyota is not interested in training individuals headed for a traditional four-year college degree and career, or a high school dropout, Parker said.
Toyota is interested in training those high school graduates who attend a four-year college but don’t take advantage of the career they studied for, those who dropped out of college or those who entered the work force after high school graduation.
Parker said Toyota wants to be a part of a teacher education program keyed to math and sciences. Indirectly, Toyota wants to encourage interest in math and science in grades K-5 so students in middle and high schools could be involved in programs like Project Lead The Way (PLTW) which prepares students for technology and engineering programs use lots of hands-on projects. Group projects and critical thinking are key to such science and technology programs at the secondary school level.
Parker said he has asked the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the Southern Regional Education Board to promote careers in technology, engineering and math and to concentrate its efforts on Northeast Mississippi.
He wants the northeast corner of the state become identified as a high-end manufacturing region.
“I think we can turn Northeast Mississippi into a model manufacturing community,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy in that region.”
Bart Aslin, with the education foundation of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, said manufacturing has to get its message out on what manufacturing is all about and the great careers that exist in the sector.
“Are you open to bringing Gateway (Project Lead The Way) to every school in Northeast Mississippi?” he asked.
Middle and high school programs
Aslin said the association doesn’t have the money for a shotgun approach to developing a manufacturing workforce.
Rather, he said, the manufacturing association would associate intensely with partners to identify the best high schools on a vertical system that would enhance the Project Lead The Way programs in one continuous stream all the way up to the community college level - schools that would engage Toyota in that continuous path.
“But if we have other manufacturers who participate, then you increase the vertical school system and start affecting the region,” he said.
“A time will come when somebody will go to Toyota who started in kindergarten,” Parker said. “Toyota can’t pay for it all. We’re the only big partner in the region but the programs need to be self-supporting over time. Other plants, school systems and state incentives will have to engage the region.”
Carolyn Helm, director of Project Lead The Way with the Southern Regional Education Board, said a brainstorming session at a strategic planning service last week created consensus. Educators have a desire to create a mission and vision with concrete goals and objectives to get PLTW in the region for all manufacturing and others who will benefit from the initiative, she said.
“If we can bring in Caterpillar and others and local leadership, we can get much better,” said Aslin.
Winston Erevelles, with Robert Morris University, asked if colleges have the curricula, laboratories and equipment they need.
Existing programs get first look
Parker said Itawamba and Northeast Mississippi community colleges right out of the gate have strong tool and die programs and all the facilities for multi-skilled industrial and maintenance training. Northwest has a number-one graduate tool and die instructor and could bring the program up to level in three years, he said.
Parker is not sure whether Northwest would do general maintenance training.
Aslin said SME’s education foundation has raised $18 million the last five years, mostly for curriculum development.
Toyota has inside leadership training, business practice and problem solving training, Parker said.
Latasha Gillespie with Caterpillar, said training of skilled workers becomes an issue. They have out-sourced a lot of training for welders and machine operators to community colleges, she said.
But CAT is destined to be more involved in workforce training as the company will lose the equivalent of its work force - 90,000 due to a maturing work force, she said.
“As people retire that's a lot of knowledge going out the door,” she said. “It’s really important to us to start working with middle school students in North Mississippi. Marshall County approached CAT for help.”
Aslin said the education foundation wants to catch young people when they are making decisions about future careers - typically around the sixth grade.
Jay Moon, with Mississippi Manufacturers Association, said the association is interested in any program that will get people trained for hire at manufacturing plants. A synergy between the private and public sector will make it happen, he said.
“For too long we’ve been training people where there are no jobs,” he said. “There are a lot of pieces on the table and the question is how all the pieces fit together. We want to train people in career areas that are meaningful and where they can get employment. And we also want transferability of employability from state to state.
Manufacturers have to lead the way for the programs to work,” he said.
Also in attendance at the meeting with Toyota were: Angela Rainer, Ole Miss School of Education; Peg Walton, National Association of Manufacturers; Cecil Schneider, Al Wavering and Douglas Booth, Society of Manufacturing Engineers; John Bass, Mississippi Manufacturing Association; Mike Larsen, Global Strategies; Clencie Cotton, Rust College; Beverly Thomas and Diedra McQuirey, Caterpillar; Lonnie Williams, Holly Springs School District; Nekka Mason, Betty Yates and Cheryl Gillespie, Marshall County Workforce BDC; and Rep. Kelvin Buck.
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