BMW Manufacturing Co. has offered full-time jobs to all 30 graduates of its latest Scholars Program.
Now, that program, which itself was modeled after the traditional apprentice program offered by The BMW Group in its German facilities, is heading south of the border to Mexico as BMW prepares to open another production facility in San Luis Potosi.
The plant in Mexico is not expected to be online and producing vehicles until 2019, but the company has started actively training apprentices to work on the production floor as soon as the plant becomes operational.
“It is actually a work-live program and it’s basically in all of our plants,” said Joy Tirado, coordinator of the training program in Mexico. “We decided to start the program from the ground up along with the plant.”
Tirado, a former supervisor for the Scholars Program at Plant Spartanburg, relocated to Mexico in 2015 to build a similar program. While the program is in full swing, Tirado said there have been some challenges along the way.
One being partnerships. The Scholars Program at Plant Spartanburg partners with Greenville Technical College, Spartanburg Community College and Tri-County Technical College to ensure that members of the program obtain an associate degree while moving through the two-year program.
“That was a key for us that the students get an associate degree,” said Ryan Childers, manager of talent programs and training at Plant Spartanburg. “It is a very similar model to what BMW has in Germany and it is key that the Mexico plant is starting their program even before they begin production.”
Initially, Tirado said there were difficulties finding Mexican colleges to partner with. She said just recently the program in Mexico found a university to partner with in teaching mechatronics. Universidad Technologica, which has a branch near the facility at San Luis Potosi, has entered into a partnership which helped the program start with 25 students with the intent of adding 80 more in the future.
“We provide basic technical instruction and we give them the basic qualification,” Tirado said. “Then they will move on to the next but there has been a challenge in equipping our facility here.
“But, so far we have been able to meet our milestones.”
The partnerships have grown beyond that with Universidad Technologica. Tirado said they are planning to have more than 100 apprentices by September when partnerships with two additional schools - Conalet (technical high school) and Cedva (automotive school that offers associate degrees in automotive technology) - will begin.
“It’s daunting but we have a great team and we are in the recruiting phase,” Tirado said. “But, we have been able to meet every challenge and we have great support from, not just Spartanburg, but Munich.”
To get into the program at San Luis Potosi, students have to pass one year of studies at Universidad Technologica. They then move into the BMW program where they learn technological information, improve their English and receive specialized training for their chosen profession.
“Skilled workers are a decisive factor for a successful plant,” said Milagros Caina-Ardree, director of personnel for BMW AG, in a press release issued during the groundbreaking of the facility. “Therefore, we are starting very early and we are transmitting key qualifications that are needed in the first place for the construction of the plant.”
The Scholars Program at Plant Spartanburg is a target for Tirado and the new program in Mexico. Childers said, when the program started in 2011, the company had a goal to graduate 35 and that has now grown to 50 a year.
“We evolved to a point where we really needed the program and it was relatively easy to start the program and it has grown,” Childers said.
As part of the Scholars Program at Plant Spartanburg, students are considered part-time employees and earn between $12 and $14 per hour depending on what phase of the program they are in. In addition, students are given tuition assistance. Since the inception of the program, nearly all of the graduates have been offered full time employment at BMW.
In San Luis Potosi, students will not be considered employees but they will earn a monthly scholarship.
“The goal is to have every student that completes the program be offered a job at the plant,” Tirado said.
Currently, there are more than 100 employees on the ground in Mexico as the plant is under construction. According to BMW, the plant will employ 1,500 workers and The BMW Group plans to invest $1 billion to bring the plant online where its annual production is expected to be nearly 150,000 vehicles per year.