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Alabama’s Education System Needs to Prepare Workers for Auto Jobs of the Future

By: William Thornton,

That’s the verdict of a white paper out from Alabama A&M University’s College of Business and Public Affairs. ”Driving the Southern Region into the Future” suggests the Southern automotive industry embrace new workforce development strategies and interact with higher education, government, K-12 school systems and others. 

The non-profit Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) contracted with AAMU’s College of Business and Public Affairs and the AAMU R.I.S.E. Foundation on the project. Del Smith, dean of the college and executive director for economic development at AAMU, facilitated the paper.

It comes at a time when all of Alabama’s automakers have within a year announced plant expansions, and construction is ongoing on the $1.6 billion Mazda Toyota plant in Huntsville. Together, the projects promise $3.3 billion in investment and about 5,400 jobs.

Yet heavy industry, like other sectors nationwide, is struggling to fill open jobs during low unemployment. At the same moment, the auto industry is poised for transformation as carmakers mull innovations in autonomous driving and electrification.

The paper suggests several strategies:

*The auto industry partnering with higher education to engage students in manufacturing opportunities. This can take the form of offering degree programs in areas such as automotive engineering, electric transportation technology and auto supply chain management.

*Engage students at the middle school level with augmented reality demonstrations of auto technology, and tours of plants and suppliers, to introduce concepts and illustrate the magnitude of the industry.

*Assessments of high school students’ career capabilities, and partnering with schools to produce competitions, generating interest in the industry and tasking students with finding solutions to ongoing problems.

By these and other measures, the paper suggests, Alabama will create a workforce “not beholden to current content knowledge, but one that has the skills and attitudes to rapidly sense and adapt to change.”

Some of these suggestions are already taking place with the state’s automakers, though in different areas and with different focuses. Mercedes-Benz hosted a startup challenge last year, inviting local and international companies into the plants to offer suggestions on some manufacturing challenges through a competition.

Other automakers regularly host student groups. Honda, within the last week, welcomed Industrial and Systems Engineering students from Auburn University.

Tom Shaw

Technical Education Post, Online Publisher

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