|Hard at Work -- Students Janet Valadez (left) and Amber Rodriguez diligently work during class at the Palo Alto College GED Program.
Say you need to fill hundreds of jobs that require a high school degree, but qualified candidates in your area are scarce because unemployment is at near-historic lows.
What do you do?
Actually, the answer is pretty easy: You help create more qualified candidates, not only giving you a deeper hiring pool, but also creating a positive impact in your community.
And everyone wins.
That’s basically what Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas is doing right now. With incredibly high consumer demand for the Tacomas and Tundras assembled at TMMTX – and market conditions suggesting demand won’t slow any time soon – the plant has taken to adding shifts and team members. However, San Antonio’s unemployment rate is a meager 3.4 percent, making the area a “Full Employment Community” based on Department of Labor definitions.
“When you’re operating in a fully employed community and looking for employees, it becomes difficult,” says Mario Lozoya of TMMTX External Affairs. “As a company, we’re looking for opportunities to develop employees within the community.”
So, three years ago, TMMTX joined with nearby Palo Alto College to offer a scholarship for students in the school’s GED program, known as the Adult Learning Program.
Toyota has been sponsoring between 100 to350 students each year, but that number will ramp up to about 500 in 2017 and eventually get as high as 1,000. The prep program can last anywhere from eight to 16 weeks, depending on the student. The scholarship covers tuition and the $140 GED test fee.
“For some folks it might not seem like a lot of money, but for people in our community surviving paycheck to paycheck, this is cost prohibitive,” says Dr. Michael Flores, president of Palo Alto College. “Provided with that support, they come through.”
A Different Kind of Program
|If Calculations are Correct -- TMMTX is helping the Palo Alto GED program, including students like Amanda Gallardo (left) and Bernice Connor.
It’s not just the financial support that makes the program special, either. Whereas most GED courses are held at community centers, Palo Alto’s program takes place on their campus, in a classroom, with dedicated and growing staff of three. For adult students who may be returning to their education after a lengthy break, that can go a long way in instilling a learning mindset that can carry over even after they complete the program.
“Some are first generation Americans and college students, so they’re the first in their family to step onto a college campus, and to be able to look at professions,” Flores says.
“Making them comfortable to be in that setting makes them feel like they can be successful,” Lozoya says. “It’s very effective, very innovative and one of the reasons it’s appealing to us.”
And to further encourage the students, once they complete the course, they participate in Palo Alto’s graduation ceremony.
“They cross the stage and celebrate with everyone else,” Flores says. “That’s going back to the role modeling. We want them to visualize themselves going further. We tell them don’t stop, keep going.”
Creating a Workforce
|Working Together -- Instructor Sheryl Carlile helps student Cuahtemac Zavalza.
So far, Toyota has donated about $53,000 to the Adult Learning Program. But the return for the company and the community is clear.
“This has been a fantastic partnership because it provides a talent pipeline,” Lozoya says. “And once the students experience that level of success, they go on even further because they see they can do it with the right kind of support.”
The partnership with Palo Alto College has created a larger talent pool for TMMTX. More importantly, the partnership fits perfectly with Toyota’s values.
“It’s directly in line with our core values,” Lozoya says. “Kaizen is the continuous improvement not just of our company, but our communities and the people who live there. So investing in the people, investing in their welfare is directly involved in the welfare of the company.”
And it gives hundreds of local residents a chance at a new beginning.
“Many students come in saying this is something I have to do to be able to get a job. To have basic employment,” Flores says. “But once they come in, they see what’s possible. Then it becomes even more aspirational. It becomes a credential they need, but this is only the beginning. It’s not the ceiling, it becomes the floor. Then they can see they can go even further because they can experience a level of success they may not have had before.”
By Dan Nied