Mercedes-Benz Vans has begun hiring for a third shift, with a goal of employing 1,300 workers by 2020 to build the new Sprinter vans.
The German automaker invested $500 million in 2015 to expand its existing reassembly site in Ladson to a full-scale manufacturing operation with a body shop, paint shop and final assembly building. The site began building Sprinter vans part by part in the fall for the U.S. and Canadian markets.
Mercedes-Benz Vans Charleston currently employs around 1,100 people, up from around 130 workers in 2015. Company officials declined to share production rates but said more production workers and skilled technicians are needed at the plant.
“To be successful in running production in a three-shift operation, we have to hire the right people,” said Biljana Jalcic, Mercedes-Benz Vans’ head of human resources.
Mercedes opened a new training area last week within the Trident Technical College Workforce Training Center, located at 1090 Newton Way in Summerville. The space houses the same equipment used in the Mercedes-Benz plant to give new hires hands-on experience.
Mercedes-Benz Vans interim CEO Mark Allen said in a statement that the new training space allows workers “to get acclimated with our equipment, technologies and production processes before they ever step foot on the production line.”
Welding machines, robots, virtual reality simulation technologies and the body of a Sprinter van sit in the 30,000-square-foot training area. Mercedes-Benz Vans workers will learn how to perform manual welding, robotic welding and quality inspection of vehicles, among other skills, said Mick Baldwin, a ReadySC project manager.
“They cannot distinguish between what’s here and what’s at the plant. ... It’s a direct replication, so when they hit the plant floor, they have the skills, the familiarity and the qualifications so they can begin immediately,” Baldwin said.
Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Alyssa Bean said the new training area within the center will help address the challenge of finding local workers with automotive experience.
“We’ve definitely succeeded in bringing on those more than 1,000 team members, but it has been a challenge to get to that point. ... It is challenging to find those team members, but that’s also what this center helps us to accomplish: bringing team members on board who maybe aren’t as experienced in automotive manufacturing, because that’s a new skill set for this area, but we can use this center to train them,” she said.
The training center
The Trident Technical College Workforce Training Center houses training space for Lowcountry companies.
Trident Tech paid $1 million and the state Commerce Department and S.C. Technical College system both paid $2.5 million to buy the $6 million building, which formerly housed American LaFrance. Trident Technical College currently leases the entire facility to readySC to run workforce training program for companies.
Pre-employment screenings, interviews, safety work and classroom training for many Mercedes-Benz and Volvo Cars employees have taken place there for more than a year. ReadySC assists with recruiting for open positions, creating training programs with companies and hiring trainers to teach in the center.
S.C. Technical College System President Tim Hardee said that the center is vital to help train the next generation of Lowcountry automotive workers and that different companies will likely use the space in the future. He said the college system bought the facility to meet the region’s workforce needs over the next 10 to 20 years.
“This part of the state is growing, and it is growing fast,” Hardee said. “To stay on the cutting edge of this growth, we knew we needed a regional training space that can meet the needs of workforce demands and make sure the 800,000 residents from Dorchester, Berkeley and Charleston counties are ready and prepared for all the jobs coming to this area.”
Mercedes and Volvo also train employees at their production facilities. Volvo also has its own training center near its plant in Ridgeville.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized the training center's funding and ownership. Trident Tech paid $1 million and the state Commerce Department and S.C. Technical College system both paid $2.5 million to buy the $6 million building, which formerly housed American LaFrance. Trident Technical College currently leases the entire facility to ReadySC