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College association lauds Midlands Tech, Michelin partnership

Staff Report
Published April 17, 2014

Midlands Technical College’s partnership with Michelin North America Inc. is considered the best corporate partnership by any two-year college in the country by the American Association of Community Colleges.

The association presented Midlands Technical College with the Award of Excellence for a College-Corporate Partnership at its annual national convention, which brings together more than 2,000 community college leaders, advocates, researchers and policymakers.

Since 2011, Michelin has announced Earthmover and passenger car and light truck expansions in the state totaling more than $950 million in investments and creating in excess of 700 manufacturing jobs. A significant portion of these investments were centered in Lexington County.

One of the most difficult and challenging positions to fill was the advanced-manufacturing technical position. At the same time the facilities were preparing to replace employees eligible to retire. Michelin turned to Midlands Technical College and Lexington County school districts to build a supply chain of technical talent to fill these new positions.

“We knew we needed a collaborative partner to approach this challenge,” said Peter Sutton, Michelin’s Lexington Site Manager. “It was very clear to us, that to be successful in the long term, we needed to work with Midlands Technical College and the Lexington area school districts to think differently about how we go about developing and recruiting the right people to meet our growing employment needs.”

To address the problem, the partners created a vision to substantially expand the “Michelin Technical Scholars Program,” which the company works on in collaboration with S.C. community colleges to recruit and train individuals for technical positions.

There were three cross-functional work teams consisting of 20 participants from Michelin, Midlands Technical College and the Lexington School Districts; a branding and marketing team to attract students to the program; an assessment team to screen and select students for full scholarships to Midlands Tech and part-time work while in college; and a team to develop curricula from high school through college that aligned with industry needs and receive dual credits.

Surveys show that while 90% of Americans believe in a strong manufacturing sector, only 17% of students said their parents encouraged them toward a career in manufacturing. In an effort to combat any misconceptions about a career in manufacturing, the branding and marketing team recommended that Michelin change the title of the role of maintenance technician to clearly communicate the highly technical skills required for the position. Michelin renamed the position the “Michelin Reliability Technicians,” and positioned the career in area high schools with a dynamic package of print, video and PowerPoint presentations that showed how Michelin uses some of the world’s most technologically advanced equipment and robotics.

“Over the next five years in the Midlands of South Carolina there will be a need for an additional 1,500 middle-skill jobs in advanced manufacturing,” said Midlands Tech President Marshall “Sonny” White. “Innovative approaches like the Michelin Technical Scholars program are working to attract and train students for these lucrative careers.”

Michelin offered full scholarships to select students in the college’s Electronics Engineering Technology program. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition, fees and books. Dubbed “Michelin Technical Scholars,” these students also reinforce their classroom knowledge by working part time in Michelin’s manufacturing facility while in college. After earning their degree from Midlands Tech, Michelin scholars are strong candidates for full-time positions at Michelin with competitive salaries and opportunities for career growth.

“This partnership has not only increased the number of future employees in the Michelin workforce pipeline,” said Sutton, “but also has effectively spread the word to young people and parents alike, that manufacturing jobs are available, pay well and can lead to even greater career opportunities.”