Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA expects it'll need tens of thousands of applicants to fill the production jobs required at the $1.6 billion manufacturing plant under construction in the Greenbrier area, said a manager with the joint venture company.
The company plans to employ up to 4,000 employees, and 3,000 of those jobs will be production team leaders and team members, said Jamie Hall, a project manager and adviser for production hiring.
“We are projecting that we will need 40,000 applicants to fill these 3,000 jobs,” said Hall. “Why? Because we are projecting 7 to 10 percent that will actually pass our process.”
That estimate is based on data and historical trends at other North American plants.
“Forty-thousand applicants. We know that that’s going to be a challenge,” Hall said. “And we also recognize there’s low unemployment here in the Huntsville area.”
But Hall, who’s been employed with Toyota for 23 years, said the company has a strategy for meeting the challenge of maintaining a steady flow of candidates. He spoke Wednesday to reporters and other visitors who toured the AIDT/Mazda Toyota Assessment Center in west Huntsville. Mazda Toyota is partnering with AIDT, Alabama’s workforce training agency.
The center's production simulations are designed to give candidates a realistic job preview and represent about 50 percent of a typical day at work, said Doug Rowland, a project manager for PSI Services, which is maintaining the center’s production simulators.
“It’s a very competitive labor market,” said Tom Korona, the general manager for the plant’s paint department. “Our biggest challenge is making sure we get the number of employees we need.”
The 3.1 million-square-foot Mazda Toyota facility, which is scheduled to start production in 2021, will house several shops: stamping, body welding, paint, assembly and quality control.
Plant leaders are optimistic they’ll be able to attract the needed workers.
“Yes, we’ll be able to find them,” Korona said. “It may take a little bit of time and we may have to expand our reach.”
Officials last year said the 4,000 workers at the plant would have an average salary of $50,000, not including benefits.
The company plans to hire production and maintenance employees over a two-year period. To maintain a constant, steady pipeline of candidates through the two-year cycle, while maintaining the company’s commitment to the local community, a three-stage advertisement strategy was created to support recruitment needs, according to Hall.
“Our focus at first will be major cities within a 25-mile radius,” including Huntsville, Madison, Decatur and Athens, expanding to major cities 50 miles out, then 75 miles out, he said.
“We’re targeting a maximum 75-mile radius for (recruiting) production members,” Hall said. But, “we want to hire locally as much as we possibly can.”
Hiring is expected to ramp up significantly in 2020.
Assessments are starting in January for production employees, Hall said, and “(production) hires will start in March and April.”
As of September, Mazda Toyota had hired 120 employees, mostly managers and administrative staff, with some maintenance team leaders and members who will maintain and install equipment, Hall said. He said the first round of 13 production team leaders has been hired and are now at Mazda and Toyota plants in Japan for three months of skills training.
Those interested in pursuing employment can go to mazdatoyota.com and, once individuals apply and pass an online assessment, they would be scheduled for a time slot at the center, spending an hour at each of four stations at a “cab,” or production simulator. There are seven cab frames in the center.
The production assessment measures competencies like attention to detail, the pace of work, fine motor skills, safety awareness, continuous improvement and job preference.
If applicants don’t pass the online assessment, they can take a remediation class or they must wait a year to apply again.
Besides the hands-on production assessment, candidates also go through an interview and an assessment to determine the best job placement. Their performance is evaluated based on those three areas, Hall said.
“We recognize it’s not for everybody but it could be a very good career” for people interested in manufacturing, said Hall. “It’s a terrific opportunity for someone to come in as a team member and have a long, full, satisfying career with opportunities for growth.”