A key incentive in attracting the Toyota-Mazda plant to north Alabama was the ability of state and local colleges and universities to find and train workers, state officials said.
Alabama Industrial Development and Training, an agency of the state Department of Commerce, committed — as part of the incentives package — to help recruit, screen and train employees for the new plant in the Greenbrier area of Huntsville-annexed Limestone County.
AIDT Director Ed Castile said he expects 30,000 to 40,000 applicants for the 4,000 positions the plant is expected to fill. He said applicants will come from all over, but he expects most will come from a 50- to 75-mile radius.
Castile said the hiring of the 4,000 employees will be spread over several years, with operations slowly ramping up toward meeting that 2021 goal of producing Toyota Corollas and a Mazda crossover vehicle.
“We’ll do what we’ve done for Polaris, Remington and the other companies that recently moved to the state,” Castile said. “This is not the first time we’ve dealt with a plant this big. Honda hired 4,600 after a couple of years. Mercedes is up 4,100 and is working on an expansion.”
Castile wouldn’t get specific about the value of AIDT's services to Toyota-Mazda, but said, “Hiring and training 4,000 people is probably worth several million dollars.”
Calhoun, Northwest Shoals and Drake State community colleges will provide training in skilled trades, while the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Athens State University could supply management- and administrative-level employees.
Calhoun is already a partner with Toyota’s Huntsville engine plant in the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education Program that provides industrial maintenance training.
Dean of Technology John Holly said he thinks the success of this 4-year-old program helped Alabama’s bid for the plant. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the companies try to replicate FAME’s success with the new plant.
“It’s just my opinion, but they (Toyota) have been very successful with the workforce in north Alabama,” Holly said.
Holly said the plant will need employees with training from Calhoun and other schools in industrial maintenance, welding and other trades, leadership, business and much more.
Athens State spokesman Chris Latham said his university offers multiple programs that would prepare employees for a job at the plant. Some of these classes are accounting, acquisition and contract management, human resource management, logistics and supply chain management, and information assurance.
Latham said Athens State forms partnerships with local industries and is willing to refine or add new degree offerings at bachelor's- and master's-degree levels to meet those needs.
The colleges and universities offer training that can lead to certificates and degrees that AIDT cannot since it isn’t accredited.
Castile said AIDT will build an applicant filter based on the plant’s needs and handle the advertising and recruiting. The chosen applicants will go through pre-employment screening that tests the fit for the job and allows the candidates to decide if the job is right for them.
Castile said the assembly line jobs “don’t require tons of education” and aren’t complicated. But the candidates need to know that the jobs can be repetitive, require some heavy lifting, and they will have to stand most of the shift.
“The potential employees have to understand that this isn’t easy work,” Castile said. “They (company officials) want to put them in a job they want to do and are capable of doing.”
The Huntsville area is one of the top locations in the country for engineers, and Castile said AIDT will recruit those engineers, many of whom will be UAH graduates, and other professional staff.
AIDT has a training facility in Madison, but more space will be needed to handle the high number of applicants until a training facility is complete at the new plant.
Robotics are an essential part of the vehicle production industry, so Tanner’s Alabama Robotics Technology Park, which AIDT runs, will be used for robotics training.
AIDT will need a large number of trainers. Some will be moved in from other training projects, while a large number will come from within Toyota and Mazda.
“I expect Toyota will bring some of their own trainers in from its Kentucky plant,” Castile said. “Most of Mazda’s trainers will come from Japan. We need their expertise and we’ll probably help with their training materials.”