Collaborative Effort -- T-TEN's Rick Lester (second from left) and AMT's Dennis Parker (far right) join forces with representatives of Project Lead the Way, a national non-profit organization that helps K-12 students develop technical and problem-solving skills.
It’s been said that One Toyota isn’t a physical place, it’s a state of mind. Count Dennis Dio Parker and Rick Lester among those who would heartily second that motion.
Parker is an Assistant Project Manager at the North American Production Support Center in Georgetown, Ky. Seven years ago, that group brought to life the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program
that’s now helping Toyota’s North American plants find and train the skilled workers they need to keep their assembly lines moving.
Lester is the Technician Development Manager for the Technician Training & Education Network (T-TEN)
that, for more than 30 years, has been helping to find and train the skilled workers Toyota and Lexus dealers need to keep their customers’ vehicles moving.
Clearly the two share a lot of common ground. Yet in December 2014, when TMNA’s government affairs office asked them and others in the company with an interest in workforce development to make presentations in Washington, D.C., Parker and Lester were only vaguely aware that the other existed.
“We started talking and it was like we were long lost brothers,” says Parker. “We were telling the same story.”
“It appeared we were the two big elephants in the room, but we’d been operating independently of one another,” says Lester. “In light of the One Toyota philosophy, it made a lot of sense that we should be talking and finding areas to collaborate.”
Parallel Paths -- As this flow chart illustrates, high school students with technical aptitude can choose to pursue a career in either manufacturing or automobile technology. Toyota, in partnership with local educational organizations, provides guidance and support along the way.
A Shared Workforce Gap
They’ve done exactly that in the more than two years since, driven by a shared challenge: Identifying and convincing young people with natural technical aptitude that a promising future awaits them with Toyota specifically, and the auto industry, generally. Parker cites a 2015 study conducted by the consulting firm Deloitte that projects 2 million unfilled technical jobs by 2025. Lester says that while T-TEN matriculates 400 skilled and experienced auto technicians annually, Toyota and Lexus dealers could absorb more than three times that.
Generational forces are exacerbating the problem. On one end of the age scale, many of the current technicians are baby boomers who, increasingly, are taking their skills and experience with them when they retire. On the other, teenagers raised on video games and mobile apps are under the impression that these jobs are unappealing.
“Too many people think being a service technician is hot, greasy, dirty, backbreaking work,” says Lester. “They think manufacturing jobs are dark, dingy, repetitive and mind-numbing. Both are wholly untrue.”
Service Technician -- Madison Sira is among the more than 11,000 students who have completed the T-TEN training and gone on to work in the service departments at Toyota and Lexus dealerships.
Expanding the Talent Pool
As such, much of Parker and Lester’s time is spent forming partnerships with organizations that can help Toyota change perceptions. AMT, for example, is closely aligned with Project Lead the Way – a national nonprofit organization that helps K-12 students develop technical and problem-solving skills. T-TEN, similarly, has collaborated with Skills USA, a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. But until Parker and Lester started comparing notes, these groups’ paths hadn’t intersected.
“We’ve worked with Skills USA for over 20 years and support them on the national level,” says Lester. “So it was a natural fit to introduce Dennis to them and help them connect the dots.”
“We helped Rick become acquainted with Project Lead the Way,” says Parker. “We went to their national offices together and made introductions. T-TEN has already begun to develop their own activities with them. It expands the talent pool.”
Other examples of cross-pollination abound:
Advanced Manufacturing Technician -- Brandon Gabriel, now a full-time team member at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, is one of the many beneficiaries of Toyota's AMT program.
‘Swimming in the Same Pond’
- AMT representatives attended and participated at T-TEN’s national conference held last year at Columbia-Greene Community College, one of its school partners in Hudson, N.Y. T-TEN team members reciprocated by taking part in AMT’s national conference at Vincennes University, one of its partner schools in southern Indiana.
- This spring, AMT, T-TEN and Project Lead the Way are joining forces on a pilot project in Tennessee to help recruit prospective technicians for Lexus dealerships in Nashville, Franklin and Memphis. If successful, the model could be replicated in other locations.
- AMT and T-TEN are serving as subject matter experts to Toyota’s government affairs team as it lobbies for increased funding of public education in support of skilled trades.
- Both programs have also begun to help the Toyota Foundation identify organizations worthy of funding to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.
Though still in its infancy, this AMT/T-TEN partnership points to the potential of One Toyota to challenge the status quo, think innovatively and collaborate across boundaries.
“Ultimately, this is about making sure our customers are taken care of in the right way,” says Lester. “And that means finding and developing the next generation of service technicians with the skills to fix our customer’s cars right, the first time, every time. Thanks to this collaboration, we are better able to achieve our mission.”
“Here we have two Toyota programs that aren’t just good at what they do, they’re both the gold standard – and we’re swimming in the same pond,” says Parker. “Neither of us can say for sure how this will all play out. But I can say this: We’re going places!”
By Dan Miller