BMW s Ingrid Wilson believes it s smart to jump on opportunity when it comes her way.
That s why she was among the recent graduates of the company s revamped Plant Spartanburg robotics technician training program, a 9-month program designed to turn production employees into Equipment Services Associates.
It gives regular production associates the opportunity to excel in their careers and lives, Wilson said Friday. I think if the opportunity came along for anybody, I d tell them to grab it and go with it.
Since BMW s local launch in the 1990s, the plant has expanded its footprint in terms of both employees and infrastructure. Today, it represents a complex mix of people and machinery that last year produced more than 360,000 vehicles.
But the technology that supports that production process - the robots that control everything from paint and body shop to assembly operations - sometimes need servicing and modifying.
That s where BMW s Equipment Service Associates like Wilson come into play according to Eugene Grant, BMW s Operational Lead for Apprenticeships and Vocational Training.
They re there to ensure that the lines continue to operate, and they re working on continuous improvement projects that allow the production lines to run more efficiently, Grant said. And because this is advanced manufacturing equipment you re talking a certain level of skill and knowledge to be able to do that.
The position represents both an increase in pay and a more challenging work environment for associates, Grant said.
The company has long turned to its BMW Scholars graduates to fill those needs, Grant said. The two-year apprenticeship program combines hands on training with classwork at area technical colleges like Spartanburg Community College and results in associates degrees in fields like mechatronics.
But Grant said the company recognized a need to provide an internal pathway for associates like Wilson with experience and aptitude.
At the end of the day, our employees are our most valuable resource, Grant said. It s the one thing that sets us apart. Anybody can buy the same equipment, but it s our people that separate us from our competitors.
The ESA Development Program was launched last summer, and included nine months of structured training similar to its scholars model. Program fellows received the equivalent of 900 hours of on-the-job training combined with the equivalent of 780 hours of classwork.
Spartanburg Community College s Advanced Manufacturing Department Chair Jay Coffer said last month the program also included two weeks of intensive training to help the group s 19 students to challenge the Siemens Mechatronics Level 1 certificate test.
The entire group passed.
Honestly I was hoping for about a 75 percent pass rate, because it s not easy, Coffer said. But after two weeks of working with them, it made me really proud the entire group made it through. That s a certification that s recognized everywhere, and it opens so many doors whether they decide to stay local or move somewhere else.
For Wilson, the training paid off. She had originally joined BMW in 2013 and had held positions as both a paint shop robotics technician and programmer, but said her ultimate goal was always to move into a position as an ESA.
It wasn t easy, but it was so worth it because I feel so much stronger as a technician today and just feel like I have the necessary skills and knowledge to go out there and do my job well, Wilson said.