Local students have a chance for an easier path to a job with a newly announced partnership between Wallace State Community College and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International.
In a ceremony at the school Friday morning, Wallace State Dean of Applied Technologies Jimmy Hodges gave some of the specifics of the program to a gathered crowd that was composed of local officials and students from Wallace State and Cullman County high schools.
Hodges said students who are selected into the program spend two semesters studying at Wallace before spending the summer working at the Mercedes plant outside of Tuscaloosa making $16 per hour and receiving a monthly housing allowance. Students will then return to Wallace for the following fall and spring semesters and work at the Mercedes plant again while making $17 an hour in their second summer there.
"Once a student successfully completes the program, they will be hired as a full-time Mercedes-Benz employee, which an amazing thing to happen to a young person," he said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for our students, and we are delighted to partner with Mercedes-Benz."
Students will also receive financial assistance for 50-100 percent of their tuition and fees that is based on their GPAs and performance in the program, Hodges said.
He said the new partnership signals a change in the trajectory of Wallace State's Automotive Service program, and said should lead to even more success in the future for the school and Mercedes-Benz.
"Once the leaders at Mercedes-Benz get a taste of Wallace State students and their work ethic and skill, it will be game on," he said.
Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Dale Greer said Cullman County residents have always known the quality education and training that students get from Wallace State, but it's exciting to hear that recognition from a company that's located 90 miles away and passed up other schools to partner with Wallace.
Workforce development of local students is a key for companies who want to move into an area or stay there, and many companies are looking to community college graduates with two-year degrees and industry certifications to work in their plants, Greer said.
"Many of the sought-after, high-paying jobs today with good benefits are going to students from the community college system," he said.
Rolf Wrona, Vice President of Human Resources at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, said the selection process for the program is set to begin in the fall of 2019.
He also spoke about the advanced technology that already goes into Mercedes-Benz vehicles today and some of the future technologies that will soon be in vehicles, and said the company needs workers who can keep up with those advances.
"Our greatest challenge is really to have a workforce that understands and can work at the pace of this technology," he said.
Mercedes-Benz already has a successful partnership with Shelton State, and there have been 107 students who have graduated from the Mercedes Tech program and gone on to full-time jobs at the plant, with 23 of those who have already been promoted into leadership positions, Wrona said.
Along with the announcement of the co-op program, he also announced that the company has donated two brand new Mercedes GLEs to the school that will be used for training purposes to let students get hands-on experience with the vehicles before they work at the plant.
"We are very excited to form this partnership, and we're looking forward to the truly tremendous opportunities that will exist for the students, for Wallace State and MBUSI," he said.
Tyler Hanes can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 138.