In 2019, Deloitte did a comprehensive study of employment in North Alabama, looking at automotive, health care, advanced manufacturing and other sectors.
“Based on the results of their study, they found a need to add 50,000 workers in North Alabama over a three-year period,” says Lynn Lane, AAMA’s vice president for workforce development. “We’re in the middle of that right now, and unless we’re recruiting 50,000 people to come to our area, we’ve got to find other sources.
“The need is real and the need is now.”
To AAMA from Mazda Toyota
Lane took the newly created AAMA position in October 2020, after a stint as Mazda Toyota Manufacturing’s HR manager. She brought with her 30 years of experience in the industry, the last 16 of those in automotive.
“Throughout that time frame, I was very involved with workforce development, as recruiting was part of my role in all positions,” says Lane, whose resume also includes 14 years at EFi Automotive, a Tier 1 supplier. “My focus, of course, will be on automotive, but I understand that it takes a village if we’re going to expand.”
That means a lot of collaboration, working with schools, OEMs and automotive suppliers and other industries.
“I’m really trying to engage all players,” Lane says. “I see my role as kind of a bridge-builder and people-connector.”
Focus on High Schools
A big focus for Lane in her first months on the job for AAMA has been working with high schools.
“I’ve been working with young people, making them aware of the wealth of opportunities available in manufacturing, and, more specifically, the automotive industry,” she says. “The high schools are a main source for us. Many students go on to two-year or four-year schools, but 30%-plus, easily, really have no defined path once they graduate. We’re talking about thousands of students.”
So Lane is working with places like Limestone County Career Tech Center in Athens. Its advanced manufacturing program offers hands-on experience for students with a small-scale assembly line.
That’s a dual enrollment program with Calhoun Community College. So students who complete it receive certified production technician certificates from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council.
“I don’t think students really ‘get it’ unless they’re able to put their hands on it,” she says.
Birmingham’s Onin Group, too, is prepping high-school students for the job market. Its ready-to-work program will be available this year in most Morgan and Limestone schools.
New Workforce Efforts
That all feeds into the effort to find new sources of qualified workers in Alabama. That’s particularly important in North Alabama right now, with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and its many suppliers coming on board soon.
“It’s a great need to have, and it’s really an opportunity for us to change lives,” Lane says. “We can take people who may have been in a cycle of poverty and bring them to a new level. There are many young people coming out of high school with certain credentials that will allow them to make as much as or more than their parents.”
That means companies need to band together and work as a team to solve a problem that will help everyone.
For about a year, AAMA has hosted OEM executive roundtables, where automotive industry folks work to find a common strategy.
“It’s industry leaders all coming to the table saying, ‘How can we as a team work together collaboratively to solve these issues?’” Lane says. “How do we let young people, their parents, their educators know, and how do we educate them about the wealth of opportunities available in automotive, and what does it mean to work in the automotive industry?”
Lane points to a workforce stakeholder meeting that AAMA coordinated in December.
“We had all of these people at the same table talking about their needs and how we as a team could address those needs,” Lane says.
It’s time for action, she says.
“We don’t have time to keep talking about it,” Lane says. “We need to act, and we’re truly working together to do that.”