A workforce already familiar with manufacturing was one of the Upstate’s strong points in attracting BMW to Spartanburg County in the 1990s.
“A trained workforce was really a key component,” said company spokeswoman Kelly Wamsley. “The workforce was here. They knew manufacturing. We just had to get them up to speed on making a car. It was definitely a huge bonus for BMW.”
Since the automaker’s move to Spartanburg County, a host of educational initiatives have retooled the opportunities available for prospective employees.
Ryan Childers, a manager for apprenticeships and associate training at BMW, said the company began working with the area’s technical school system from the start, including Spartanburg Community College, Greenville and Tri-County technical colleges.
In 2011, the automaker began working with the three technical colleges for the BMW Scholars program, providing work experience for students interested in a career in skilled manufacturing.
The two-year program, which enrolls 35 students a year, provides tuition assistance, allowing students to attend classes full-time and work up to 25 hours per week at the factory. Fifty-two graduates of the program now work full-time at the manufacturing facility.
The colleges also provide continuing development for BMW employees, like Occupational Safety and Health Administration training, and administer pre-employment screenings for the company, Childers said.
“BMW has had a major impact on Spartanburg Community College,” said Jay Coffer, chairman of the college’s advanced manufacturing department. “We’ve had a great relationship with BMW through the years. Every time an expansion took place, the college has benefited as well.”
BMW employees serve the college in advisory matters, and the company’s industrial experts assist SCC officials on curriculum development, Coffer said. The company was instrumental in the development of SCC’s mechatronics program — a two-year program that incorporates multiple disciplines such as mechanics, electronics and robotics.
The partnership with BMW enabled the college to receive a $1.2 million portion of a Department of Labor grant through the Henry Ford Institute. The total grant equaled $17 million, which was distributed to 13 colleges, Coffer said. SCC used the money to buy equipment and for curriculum and professional development.
BMW’s suppliers in the Upstate have also had an impact on SCC, Coffer said.
“For every job at BMW, there are 2.5 jobs outside their facility,” Coffer said. “Now you’re talking about 18,000 or 19,000 jobs that need their training needs met.”
For students at the state’s four-year colleges, such as the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and College of Charleston, BMW has an internship program. Interns take a semester off to work at the plant, not only in automotive engineering, but in finance and logistics as wel
BMW is a partner in Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, founded in 2007. Known as CU-ICAR, it is an advanced-technology research campus in Greenville where Clemson offers the nation’s only doctorate in automotive engineering. BMW provides an endowment for an automotive manufacturing chair at ICAR, and the automaker’s Information Technology Research Center is on the ICAR campus.
To target younger students, BMW sponsors an academic summer camp with the University of South Carolina Upstate for rising high school seniors. The company is involved with the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, and Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.
In all, the company promotes engineering careers to 4,000 to 5,000 high school students each year, with a focus on students in the Upstate.
“We’d like to think we have something at each level,” Childers said. “All of these programs come together to create the workforce we need for the future, from two-year technical schools to graduate programs and everything in between.”
BMW also has sponsored the S.C. Teacher of the Year award since 1999.
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