Upskilling Auto Workers

Volkswagen prepares apprentices for building electronic vehicles.

An apprentice learns new skills at the Volkswagen Academy.

Volkswagen is preparing for building its all-electric ID.4 in Chattanooga by adding new courses on EV technology to its vocational training program.

Founded in 2010, the Volkswagen Academy was modeled after successful apprenticeship programs in Germany. The academy has a two-pronged approach: an apprenticeship program designed to strengthen the Volkswagen workforce and the High School Mechatronics Akademie, a program for high-school students interested in studying mechatronics.

Now, the academy is incorporating in new skills and instruction needed to work on EVs. In these new courses, students learn about high-voltage systems on the vehicles and understand how the battery in an electric car differs from a standard internal combustion engine model. High-tech topics include advanced robotics and the standard language of robotics.

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In addition, aluminum welding is required for the battery of an electric vehicle. So, apprentices — or, in some cases, robots — weld with rubber on an aluminum frame, which is placed in the underbody of a vehicle. This process is a key technology and skill that is needed as more EVs are developed at Volkswagen.

Ilker Subasi, manager of training and development at Volkswagen Chattanooga

“Safety is first,” said Ilker Subasi, manager of training and development. “Once we have the safety basics in place, (we start training for) basic and advanced electrics, and then we go into different levels of high voltage training.”

All current Volkswagen employees are also eligible to take the new courses. “Everybody in the (Chattanooga) plant will have to go through a mandatory computer-based high-voltage and electro-mobility awareness training,” said Subasi.

Due to COVID-19, the academy added online courses. However, the push now is to get the students back on the training site for the hands-on experience. “The students really enjoy it and are eager to get their hands on the new technologies,” said Steffi Wegener, technical training supervisor. “They see the electric car, they see the batteries and they see how we bring the robots inside, but they aren’t just learning on paper.”

The Volkswagen Academy will welcome a new class of students in the fall, while Subasi, Wegener and others are looking toward the future. “In the next five years, we can work on technology (that will) change the charging process,” said Subasi, like technology that would allow for wireless charging at parking stations. Other areas of expertise that could be added to the academy in the near future are 3D printing, cybersecurity and advanced robotics.

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