As BMW approaches the home stretch of a $1 billion expansion to increase capacity, build a new sports-utility vehicle and add hundreds of jobs at its plant in Greer, the automaker is also expanding the popular apprenticeship program that helps fill its growing work force.
The BMW Scholars Program partners with Greenville Technical College, Tri-County Technical College and Spartanburg Community College to arm selected students pursuing manufacturing-related associate’s degrees with specialized training, part-time jobs and tuition assistance.
To date 108 have graduated from the program, and 107 have become fulltime employees at BMW – though there is no obligation for post-graduation employment for the students or the company. The only graduate who didn’t accept a job offer from BMW has gone on to pursue a bachelor’s degree and been invited to return for work once he’s finished, BMW Manufacturing Co. spokesman Steve Wilson said.
The program will grow from 60 students annually to 100 in the semesters to come.
“It’s sort of an American spin on the German apprenticeship programs that they have,” Wilson said. “It’s exciting for us. We need to recruit and retain people who are skilled and talented and can do this type of advanced manufacturing that is being required nowadays.”
Program students attend class fulltime while working 20 hours weekly at BMW Manufacturing Co. They’re required to complete assessment testing, be in their first year of degree study and maintain at least a 2.8 grade-point-average.
They choose from work-study areas of automotive technology, equipment services, production and logistics management.
“It’s a very intense program,” Wilson said. “These students are quite remarkable. They’re very smart students. And when you say students you think they’re just out of high school, and many of them are, but we have several who have spent time in the military and they’re coming back and starting a new career. We have some who are just changing careers mid-stream.”
While they train and study at BMW’s Training and Development Center off Brockman McClimon Road, where fulltime employees have shared some of the space for professional-development training, the company is building a new 10,000-square-foot facility on its Greer campus to relocate professional-development training in expanded space.
That’s only part of the expansion that’s scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The work will provide the plant in Greer with the largest production capacity in the Germany-based automaker’s global production network, officials say, while facilitating an additional 800 jobs.
The company is the nation’s leading automotive exporter by value. The X3, X4, X5 and X6 models that passed through Greer to the Port of Charleston in 2015 totaled $9.8 billion in value, and the current expansion is adding an X7 model to the lineup.