TUSCALOOSA, Alabama – When the first production jobs at Mercedes-Benz’s new Alabama plant were advertised, an avalanche of applications followed – 63,000 to be precise. In stepped AIDT, the state’s workforce training agency, and a partnership was born.
AIDT has been with Mercedes on every step of the automaker’s journey in Alabama over the past 20 years – helping to assemble the initial workforce, training job candidates in the basics, lending a hand when expansions required additional employees.
Today, that relationship is stronger than ever. Currently AIDT is assisting Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI), as the automaker’s Alabama operation is known, in the recruitment and training of 1,400 new hires as the Tuscaloosa plant prepares to add two new vehicles to its production lineup.
“Working with MBUSI since 1993 has been a very rewarding experience and one in which AIDT has learned a tremendous amount. An indirect result of our partnership with MBUSI is that AIDT has been propelled the AIDT program into the international spotlight,” said Ed Castile, AIDT’s longtime director. “They helped us perfect many of our programs and we continue to learn from the Mercedes experts new and innovative ideas.
“When you work with the best you expect to be the best,” he added.
BUILDING A PARTNERSHIP
Though AIDT already had been a solid workforce-training program for two decades, in the early 1990s, the organization had to respond to a new challenge with Mercedes’ arrival. “Remember, we had no automotive industry when Mercedes came to the state,” said Bill Taylor, a member of the automaker’s original management team in Alabama who went on to head the plant between 1998 and 2009.
AIDT, however, was integrated into the state’s recruiting push for the highly coveted Mercedes plant, and once the Project Rosewood (the codename for the Mercedes project) agreement was signed, the training organization went to work. AIDT officials held rounds of meetings with the Mercedes project start-up team, including the automaker’s human resources manager, Emmett Meyer. The AIDT team also made several trips to Germany, where it worked closely with Mercedes engineers and experts.
“They are great partners,” said Taylor, who now serves as president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. “AIDT is a great resource for the state.”
Mercedes and AIDT developed a pre-employment screening system that proved essential when the avalanche of initial applications crashed in. AIDT established basic skills training and apprenticeship programs for the automaker. It also opened a training center that still operates on the Mercedes campus.
Practically everything related to assembling a Mercedes vehicle is involved in all aspects of training for both new and existing employees at the center. AIDT says much of what is taught there is proprietary and cannot be discussed in detail.
“From the beginning, we knew MBUSI would be an exceptional company to work with and they have proven to be a very good company for Alabama citizens to work for and a valued partner in the ongoing development of the Alabama workforce,” Castile said. “Not only have they had a direct impact on their employees, but they have touched many that work in the supply chain and other local companies. We are proud of Mercedes and especially proud to be their partner.”
TEAMING WITH OTHERS
AIDT also has worked with Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa on training for Mercedes workers and on an innovative program that prepares students for jobs at the assembly plant. The “Mechatronics” program at Shelton State combines a customized classroom curriculum with hands-on training on the factory floor and gives students a chance to earn money while progressing toward a degree. Most graduates of the program are guaranteed a job at Mercedes. (The program got additional funding this year.)
The program is so effective that Dr. Mark Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, has said he wants to copy it with other corporate partners at community colleges across the state. “I would say to employers, if this is something you are interested in, we will be glad to sit down with you and see if we can develop a program like this,” Heinrich said recently at an event that highlighted cooperation between Alabama educators and economic developers on new workforce development strategies.
Using the model it perfected with Mercedes, AIDT has assisted Alabama’s other automotive manufacturers by helping to assemble and train their workforces. AIDT also has training centers at the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama assembly plants, as well as at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama engine plant in Huntsville. It also has helped auto suppliers across Alabama.
Since AIDT was founded in 1971, it has assisted more than 3,150 companies and trained more than 553,000 workers, an average of nearly 13,500 a year. It has an ISO-9001:2008 certification from the International Standards Organization, a first for a state-funded workforce training program.