Every production member hired for the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. plant in Limestone County won't be selected solely on the basis of a strong resume or winning personality.

Each worker will also be assessed on skill sets and how he or she performs on a number of graded tasks at an assessment center operated jointly by MTMUSA and Alabama Industrial Development Training, or AIDT. MTMUSA officials pulled back the curtain on the center Wednesday for select members of the media, who also had the chance to try the assessment activities.

The assessment center, located just off West Governor's Drive in Huntsville, is just one component of MTMUSA's primary goal — the hiring of 4,000 salaried workers, production leaders and production team members. Officials acknowledge there will be some challenges associated with that goal, especially considering low unemployment numbers in the Tennessee Valley.

“There are a lot of nuances and challenges to this project,” said Jamie Hall, a staffing advisor for MTMUSA who has been with Toyota for 23 years. “We are projecting we'll need 40,000 applications to fill the 3,000 (production) jobs.”

That number is based on a 7-10% projected pass rate.

Company officials initially announced the $1.6 billion plant would make 300,000 vehicles per year when production begins in spring 2021. It was announced in July, however, the plant would not manufacture the Toyota Corolla but instead a yet-to-be-named SUV. A Mazda crossover model will also be manufactured at the facility.

About 120 employees have been hired so far, but those hires are primarily office and management staff. Thirteen production team leaders have also been hired and are now receiving training in Japan on culture, working on an automotive assembly line, and understanding their role as a team leader. Another group of team leaders will go to Japan in April.

Who to hire?

Time will be of the essence to recruit, hire and train the 3,000 production workers because the first vehicles are scheduled to roll off the line in spring 2021. Hall said there is normally a three-year ramp-up for a new Toyota facility, but officials are working within a two-year window for the MTMUSA plant. Also challenging, they've got to hire double the normal amount of workers.

“What we want to prevent from happening is we have a high early excitement, but the candidates start to plateau,” Hall said. “We want to pull different levers at different times.”

Hall said there is a three-tiered approach in terms of recruiting potential employees. The company will first look for candidates within a 25-mile radius, which includes Huntsville, Madison, Athens and Decatur.

After that, the search will expand to a 50-mile radius to include Cullman, Muscle Shoals, Florence, Guntersville and Scottsboro. The third phase will increase the search to 75 miles and include South Nashville, West Chattanooga, North Birmingham, Gadsden and Anniston.

“The farther out your team members are, the more turnover you have,” he said. “If you're working long hours and then driving on top of that, it doesn't make for a long career.”

Later this month, Hall said more production leader jobs would be posted by Alabama Industrial Development Training, which is overseeing the hiring process from application to a contingent employee offer. MTMUSA will begin assessing production members in January and start hiring in March or April.

The application process

Most job-seekers these days begin the road to a new job with an online application, and MTMUSA is no different. Their only prerequisite for applying for the company is candidates must be age 18 or older and have either a high school diploma or a GED.

“That's where we go to cast the net,” Hall said. “That's where we do our sourcing, recruiting to get to the right candidates.”

As part of the initial application, candidates answer a series of questions, including their willingness to:

• Work rotating shifts, overtime and weekends;

• Undergo a background check and drug screen; and

• Wear personal protective equipment.

Other questions ensure the candidate has reliable transportation and is satisfied with the compensation.

If the answers to those questions are deemed satisfactory, the candidate then takes an online manufacturing assessment. The assessment is meant to determine several factors, including applied learning, continuous improvement, leadership potential, process monitoring, positive attitude, quality focus, problem solving, safety, teamwork and work ethic, and tempo.

If a candidate scores high on this assessment, he or she is invited to the assessment center for a hands-on assessment. If not, Hall said the candidate has the option to receive remedial industrial training. If the candidate elects to do so, he or she can immediately go back through the candidate process. If not, the candidate must wait another year to apply.

Assessment center

The assessment center is where the rubber meets the road for many candidates. Inside the center, there are seven Toyota Corolla bodies that were all painted “MaTo Crimson” by students at the Limestone County Career Technical Center. The color is a mix of Mazda Soul Red, Toyota Barcelona Red and Alabama state flag crimson.

Each vehicle has four stations, and candidates spend 60 minutes per station to accomplish the required tasks. The tasks are described on a computer screen at each station and include the instructions and the overall objective. Proctors from PSI grade the candidates on their ability to achieve the goal in the prescribed amount of time.

The assessment center capacity is 24 candidates per shift on the vehicles, but some candidates can be interviewed while others are working at the stations for a total of 36 candidates per shift. There are two shifts, so the assessment center can train and interview a total of 72 candidates per day.

Assessment center tasks range from hand-tightening bolts to using an air drill and installing wiring harnesses and airbags. Another exercise involves using a handheld stylus to determine a candidate's ability to use a paint gun.

Candidates are judged on attention to detail, work pace, motor skills, safety, continuous improvement and job preference.

“This process helps understand the capability of a team member and to see if (the job) is a good fit,” said MTMUSA general manager over paint Tom Korona, who has 24 years of experience with Toyota. “Our team members are industrial athletes who have the capability to stop the line at any point to raise an issue with a vehicle.”

Hall said members of MTMUSA's management team have also taken the assessment.

“The importance of that activity as part of our culture is to understand the team member's perspective,” he said. “It's a very difficult job.”

In addition to the assessment and formal interview, each candidate invited to the assessment center will watch a video about the company. Hall said it is important the assessment center acts as a one-stop shop for candidates.

“If you have candidates and you have to (interview) them multiple times, they lose interest,” he said.

Hall said it takes about a week for the results of the assessment to be tabulated. If a candidate performed well at the assessment center, he or she receives a conditional job offer.

Partners

Officials at the plant explained the assessment center represents partnerships with several other entities, including AIDT, PSI and Progressive Health.

Doug Roland, on-site manager for PSI, said the company's responsibility is to ensure the simulations are “running at 100 percent.” Morgan Johnson, with Progressive Health, explained her company's role is to ensure candidates are placed in jobs that are safe for them.

Toni Eberhart, strategic and social communication specialist for MTMUSA, said the company would be changing the lives of its employees when production begins. 

When the project was first announced in January 2018, officials said the average salary per worker would be $50,000, which is exclusive of benefits.

“I've been nothing short of blown away by what is being offered,” Eberhart said.

Visit https://www.findabetterjob.com/MazdaToyota to see current job openings and learn more about the company.

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