TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Sisters Stacey and Stephanie Dougherty are among the first Industrial Mechatronics graduating class at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. (MBUSI), the automaker’s Alabama operation. They join their father, Scott Dougherty, a Logistics Group Leader with 17 years at the Alabama plant, as members of the MBUSI family.
Now Stephanie, 29, is about to start her own family, thanks to the Mercedes Mechatronics program. She met her fiancé, Andrew Carlisle, through the innovative training program, and the two are scheduled to marry April 11, 2015. “It changed everything for me,” Stephanie said of the Mechatronics program. “I went from not having anything to getting a good job and starting a life with somebody.”
Graduating from the Mechatronics program has been life altering for the others students as well. The program’s 20 graduates were recognized during a recent ceremony at MBUSI’s Bill Taylor Institute. Along with their associate’s degree and a short certificate, they received full-time employment with MBUSI, which is expanding and adding new models to its production line-up.
Team member Keith Redick said guaranteed employment was a strong incentive to enroll in the program. “My goal was never just to pass the class to get into the program,” he said. “My goal was to do the best I possibly could and try to achieve the top percentage to get into Maintenance.” Redick is now an apprentice in the plant’s Maintenance area.
20 STUDENTS, 20 JOB OFFERS
MBUSI established the Mechatronics Program in partnership with Shelton State Community College to train and equip students to meet the automotive technology demands of the future. The discipline is called Mechatronics because it combines mechanical engineering, computer science and electronics. The program involves seven semesters of course work and on-the-job training.
Graduates receive an associate’s degree in applied science and industrial electronics technology as well as a short certificate in industrial maintenance technology. MBUSI offers full-time positions in production to a minimum of the top 75 percent who successfully complete the program, although because positions were available, all 20 students were offered jobs at MBUSI. Top students are measured by overall grade point average and work performance. The top percentage of graduating students hired will enter MBUSI’s Industrial Maintenance Mechatronics Apprentice Program for training.
Steve Fair, Shelton State’s dean of technical services, said the Mechatronics program serves as a model of industry-education partnership that’s being emulated nationally. “It’s something we’re very proud to be a part of,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure to watch this first group as they’ve worked their way through and put in all the time, effort and energy that it’s taken to be successful.”
MBUSI President and CEO Jason Hoff said the Mechatronics program allows the automakers Alabama operations to better address future attrition in the critical Maintenance area. “This fills a huge need we have in the Maintenance area. We have people retiring, we have growth in our plant, and we need new maintenance team members,” Jason said. “Fifteen of the 20 who go into the apprentice program will be Maintenance team members in the future.” The other five received production jobs.
Brian Whittier, vice president for plant’s Paint and Body Operations, said the training graduates received through the Mechatronics program prepares them for life in the high-tech automotive industry. “I’ve watch these team members work their way through the Mechatronics program, and I’m anxious to have them work inside the Body and Paint operations so their education and desire to do well can be used in the work place,” he said.
FAMILY SUPPORT NETWORK
Both Dougherty sisters said their father encouraged them to enroll in the Mechatronics program.
“When the program came out I looked at it as a real opportunity for the two girls to get better jobs,” Scott said. “I took the information home and laid it on the kitchen table and told them to make up their mind if they thought it was something that they wanted to try.”
Both sisters were looking for a new start in life. Stephanie had graduated from the University of Montevallo with a fine arts degree but couldn’t find a job in her field. She found part-time work but wanted a steady career. “I knew how good the company has been to my father and how our family’s life has changed since he got his job,” Stephanie said. “So I applied to the Mechatronics program.”
Stacey was looking to put a past relationship and business venture behind her. “I wanted to do something new and different and something that was all me,” she said.
Both sisters entered the program in January 2012. They said the program was difficult at first, especially because they didn’t have a background in the course work. “I didn’t know anything about electricity except you turn the light on and off,” Stacey said. “My knowledge of AC/DC (alternating current and direct current) was rock music, so it was different. But once I got that down, it all came together.”
Fortunately, the two had each other. “We studied together. We rode to school together and supported each other through the program,” Stephanie said. When their individual schedules prevented them from studying together, Stephanie found another student whose schedule coincided with hers. That student is now her fiancé. “He would meet up with me in Barnes and Noble every Sunday,” she said. “He would sit there several hours explaining stuff to me until I understood it. That developed into a real good friendship, and where we are now.”
Stacey had her sign of fate too. She was hired on her birthday, May 12.
Both sisters are now maintenance apprentices, job-shadowing and training for 18 months; Stacey in Assembly 2 and Stephanie in Body Shop 166. And both say they’re happy their paths brought them to Mercedes. “When we let people know we made it into Maintenance, they gave us high-fives and told us they’re proud we’re here,” Stacey said. “It’s such a good environment to work in. I really enjoy it here.”
Their father said he couldn’t be more proud of his daughters.
“As a father all you ever want for your children is for them to be happy and have a better life,” Scott said. “I think they now have the tools and the building blocks to complete that task.…It is an honor not only to them both, but to our entire family, that they are the first two girls in this great program. I hope they are an inspiration to others.”