SUMITON – Bevill State Community College and Mercedes-Benz celebrated an official launch of a co-op program on Thursday in Sumiton, with city, county and state officials were on hand for a presentation about the partnership.
Dr. Kim Ennis, president of Bevill State, welcomed all the guests and offered comments about the project.
“The workforce is going to have to move toward public and private partnerships,” Ennis said.
It’s partnerships like the one between Mercedes-Benz and Bevill State that will be able to develop a workforce for the State of Alabama, according to Ennis.
“The State of Alabama is bustling at this time. The workforce is growing, and there is a need for workers,” Ennis said. “But there is an even bigger need for people in the pipeline to become those workers,” she said. That’s why she feels this program is so important.
Rolf Wrona, vice president of human resources for Mercedes-Benz United States International (MBUSI), talked about the partnership with Bevill State. Mercedes donated a new Mercedes GLE to the Bevill State auto mechanic department so that students in the program can get hands-on training with state-of-the-art equipment.
The GLE will not be available to customers until after the first of the year. The GLE has over 100 control units, which control everything from changing lanes to opening the moonroof. It has a feature that responds to voice commands.
“You can say, 'Hey, Mercedes, I’m cold,' and the vehicle will change the temperature inside,” Wrona said.
MBUSI will be building electric vehicles in the future. They will also build a battery plant as well, according to Wrona.
“The technology in our cars and will continue to further develop over time,” said Wrona. “With that, one of our biggest challenges is to have a workforce that can understand and work at the pace that technology is moving.”
Wrona said that since MBUSI formed a partnership with Shelton State, 107 students have gone through the program, and earned full-time positions at the plant. Twenty-three of those students have moved into leadership positions.
Students who enter the Mercedes Tech program at Bevill will have tuition assistance from MBSUI and then get paid while they learn at the plant in Vance. Those who successfully complete the program will have an opportunity for a full-time job.
Lesley Hartley, the dean of instruction for Bevill State, explained the process for someone interested in being considered for this program.
The first step is to enroll as a student at Bevill State in the Automotive Technology program. These students can then apply for the Mercedes Co-Op Program. The application and acceptance process are stringent, according to Hartley.
The program is six semesters. The first two are at the Bevill State campus in Sumiton, and then during the first summer, students will work their third semester at the plant in Vance. The starting salary for students is $16 an hour plus a housing stipend, according to Hartley. The next two semesters are back at Bevill, and the final semester is again at the plant in Vance.
Students that keep their grades up will continue to receive tuition support from MBSUI throughout their time in the program.
“That’s an amazing opportunity for our students,” Hartley said.
“Good things are happening at Bevill State,” Senator Greg Reed said. “We’ve had multiple opportunities at Bevill campuses announcing exciting new programs and collaborations.” “We could not be more ecstatic about this new opportunity here at Bevill State, and all the commitments that Mercedes has made not only in our community here at Bevill State but also for what Mercedes has done for the State of Alabama,” Reed said.
The goal of this institution is to train an prepare young people to be in a place where they can be productive citizens, according to Reed. “Being able to do that for this organization is very important. That’s their mandate,” Reed said. Alabama has 2.1 million Alabamians working today. Sixty percent of those workers will be available for retirement in ten years. “This makes us recognize that we must work hard and work fast,” he said.
“This is a great day and a great opportunity,” Reed said.