Focused Education: Local Colleges to help with future Toyota-Mazda needs

UAH, AAMU, Calhoun and Drake State say interest is high since Jan. 10 announcement by Mazda-Toyota

By Wendy Reeves

March 1, 2018

The excitement surrounding 4,000-plus new jobs coming to the Tennessee Valley is a game-changer for area colleges, which are already ramping up programs to meet the demand for the 2021 opening of the new Toyota-Mazda plant.

“It is certainly going to step up the demand for careers in advanced manufacturing, and we are ready for that challenge,” says Calhoun Community College President Dr. James Klauber.

Drake State Community & Technical College, Alabama A&M University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) are equally ready to help meet the workforce demands.

Interest in the new jobs kicked in immediately after the announcement.

“We’ve been taking an enormous amount of phone calls since the announcement,” says John Holley, Dean of Technologies at Calhoun.

The calls are from potential students and alumni, says Kelli Morris, Director of Calhoun’s Career Services & Cooperative Learning.

“There’s lots of buzz about it, and it’s a great thing,” Morris says. “For the students, it depends on where they are in their current studies and where they want to be, but we are here to guide them to become employable overall in the community.”

Drake State Community and Technical College

In reaction to the Toyota-Mazda announcement, Drake State is already planning to expand its reach in programs such as advanced manufacturing and welding to its traditional, non-traditional and dually enrolled high school students, says Christopher A. Lewis, Drake’s interim president.

“We will continue to offer a variety of programs and certificates, such as certified production technician certificates, to ensure that we can touch all levels of this community who desire to be prepared to work,” Lewis said.

Drake State has a workforce development initiative that provides non-credit, short-term courses tailored to enhance employability. Many of the programs lead to industry-recognized certification. Drake State can also customize training programs to suit the specific needs of employers and businesses, says Dr. Alice Raymond, acting Dean of Instruction.

She says non-credit program offerings include career technical fields like welding, electrical technology, soldering, and information technology certifications like Cisco Academy training and CompTIA certification.

Drake offers an advanced manufacturing degree program with tracks in injection molding, machine tool, mechatronics, welding, electrical technology, and engineering design.

“This program will directly link to the new plant employment opportunities,” Raymond says. “Of course any major plant will need office staff, computer and IT technicians, and our CIS and business program graduates will fit very well in that niche.

“If the plant includes a cafeteria, our culinary arts and hospitality management program will be able to provide the skill and talent toward that initiative. We have an HVAC and automotive services program that will provide highly trained graduates to that workforce.”

Alabama A&M University

“As the Tennessee Valley’s premier land grant institution of higher learning, Alabama A&M University is uniquely postured to provide the skills needed for its long-term success,” says Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr., the school’s president.

He says A&M is the state’s leading producer of minority science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors.

“With such a significant economic venture as Toyota-Mazda, we are prepared for the demands to service its workforce well into the future,” Hugine says.


With a future expected to focus on electric vehicles, the UAH campus is ready to help Toyota-Mazda create a competitive edge by utilizing and building on more than 50 years of expertise in developing various modes of transportation, including exotic vehicles such as missiles and space hardware.

“The Toyota-Mazda partnership is a major opportunity for UAH researchers and students to be engaged in a new commercial enterprise that could very well transform the future of the automotive transportation industry,” said Ray Vaughn, UAH Vice President for Research and Economic Development. “UAH’s strengths lie in research and the application of that knowledge to real-world solutions. Talent on our campus could be a real asset for that partnership through our R&D activities as well as our advanced workforce development.”

Leading edge technologies include the core of the university’s academics and research: materials science; advanced energy storage and power systems; systems engineering; chemical engineering and electrical and computer engineering; as well as supply chain management and logistics and cybersecurity.

Calhoun Community College

Calhoun is home to the Alabama Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program, just one vein of its workforce development programs.

FAME includes a two-year technical associate’s degree that combines cutting-edge curriculum to support advanced manufacturing technology, paid working experience, along with learning highly sought-after business principles and best practices of a world-class manufacturer.

“FAME is a partnership between manufacturing sponsors in our area, and we accept 15 to 20 students each year,” says Kelli Morris.

Morris is also focusing on expanding co-op and apprenticeship opportunities to build skills of the current workforce because of varied interests of students.

John Holley says the Toyota-Mazda plant jobs will touch every traditional program Calhoun offers — from welding and robotics to computer information systems.

“We are constantly looking at what we need to do as far as expanding our offerings,” Holley says. ““We are having 100 percent placement, and that tells me we have to look at the projections and forecasting data for the region because we’re already struggling to meet the need.”

Dr. Klauber is confident the FAME and co-op programs will help align the needs of area employers with students interested in careers in their chosen field.

“We already have great relationships with the school districts we serve, and with our dual credit offerings, we can help students get ready for careers at the manufacturing plants across our region, including Toyota-Mazda,” Klauber says. “It is an exciting time.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appeared in Momentum, a special edition magazine published by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber in March 2018.