VANCE, Alabama – As Mercedes-Benz U.S. International continues to expand its $6 billion Alabama auto assembly operation, the company is also investing in schools and training programs across the state, including those in rural counties.
In turn, the schools and training programs are helping to fill the automaker’s worker pipeline, a crucial part of its strategy to begin producing electric vehicles — and the batteries that power them — in Alabama next year.
Mercedes recently announced the donation of 15 of its luxury SUVs, with a combined value of more than $700,000, to support workforce training.
Most of the GLE SUVs, all produced at the Tuscaloosa County plant, were previously used as test vehicles and cannot be sold or driven on public roads. But they can be used as classroom tools.
Mercedes is giving the vehicles to automotive technology training programs in Bibb, Blount, Cullman, Fayette, Hale, Pickens, Shelby, Tuscaloosa, Walker and Winston counties, as well as Wallace State Community College and Lawson State Community College.
MBUSI President and CEO Michael Göbel said donating the vehicles to Alabama schools helps bridge the gap between the classroom and career readiness.
“We have found a sustainable solution to re-purpose vehicles — that would have been destroyed at the end of their test cycle — and diverted them instead for an educational purpose,” he said.
“These schools are providing hands-on training and helping automakers develop a future workforce that will help us make sustainable vehicle production a reality.”
To date, the company has donated more than 40 vehicles to area high schools that serve as feeders to two-year colleges.
Many of those schools are in rural Alabama, said Steve Colburn, human resource specialist at MBUSI. He travels to high schools throughout the state visiting students, discussing career opportunities and promoting the Mercedes TECH program that offers an associate’s degree in advanced automotive technology.
“Just the other day, I gave a presentation at Hubbertville High School in Fayette County and there are a couple of senior students that have applied to the Mercedes TECH program for the fall of 2022,” Colburn said.
“There are several rural high schools that are very important to the success of our program and to the success of our plant.”
Colburn said MBUSI is committed to getting vehicles and other technology out into the community when it becomes available, especially for schools with automotive tech programs in place.
“We want these vehicles to be used and for the students to really learn the technical aspects of our SUVs,” he said.
BRINGING TECH TO STUDENTS
Some of the donated vehicles are going to the Modern Manufacturing Center of Excellence program that is run by West Alabama Works, which coordinates workforce services in Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marengo, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties.
The program is located at schools in four regions of Alabama, one for each of the automakers that operate in the state, including Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai and the Mazda-Toyota partnership, said Donny Jones, executive director of West Alabama Works and chief operating officer of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce.
In West Alabama alone, seven schools have launched the program, which prepares students for entry level manufacturing careers with the state’s automakers. More schools in the West Alabama region and in the other three regions surrounding the other automakers are expected to launch the program next year.
Jones said many of the schools are in rural counties, and each region is working closely with the nearby automaker.
“The automakers are involved in what is being taught,” he said. “This is a business and industry initiative in partnership with K-12 and post-secondary.”
Rolf Wrona, vice president of human resources for MBUSI, said the company is focused on engaging students in manufacturing and technology.
“Our Mercedes-Benz SUVs will enable us to bring technology to the students,” he said.
(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)