Preparing and upskilling auto workers for the EV revolution

Apprentices applying hands-on skills during the apprenticeship program.

The Volkswagen Academy is making electrifying additions to its curriculum.

With the recent introduction of the new all-electric ID.4, the Volkswagen Academy at the Chattanooga plant is transforming its vocational training program to include new courses on EV technology – from working with high voltage batteries to performing advanced welding work.

Founded in 2010, the Volkswagen Academy is modeled after several successful Volkswagen apprenticeship programs in Germany. The Academy is two-pronged: an apprenticeship program which is designed to strengthen the Volkswagen workforce with additional upskill and onboarding training for new hires; and the High School Mechatronics Akademie, a program for high school students interested in studying mechatronics. The Academy also serves as the plant’s primary workforce development program—which is key for introducing the new skills and instruction needed to work on EVs.

We spoke to Ilker Subasi, Manager of Training and Development, and Steffi Wegener, Technical Training Supervisor, about the many ways Volkswagen is adapting its curriculum to encompass e-mobility.

“We look at our target groups for specific areas then identify experts in [those] areas to look into product and processes,” said Subasi.

Ilker Subasi, the manager of training and development at Volkswagen Chattanooga.

Subasi and his team of technical instructors spent extensive time understanding the crucial steps and processes needed to build an EV and developed a comprehensive and timely curriculum for Volkswagen employees.

“Safety is first,” said Subasi. “Once we have the safety basics in place, [we start training for] basic and advanced electrics, and then we go into different levels of high voltage training.”

In the new courses, students learn about high voltage systems on the vehicle and understand how the battery in an electric car differs from a standard internal combustion engine model. The curriculum is designed to be adaptive and is constantly evolving. High-tech topics covered over the course of the training include advanced robotics and the standard language of robotics.

Apprentices learn new skills at the Volkswagen Academy.

Completely new to many students is the aluminum welding required for the battery of an electric vehicle. Typically, apprentices (or, in many cases, robots) weld with steel, but for the EV batteries, they learn how to weld with rubber on an aluminum frame which will be placed in the underbody of the vehicle. The process new to Volkswagen is a key technology and skill which is needed as more EVs are developed at Volkswagen.

Current Volkswagen employees are also eligible to take the new courses and upskill their capabilities. “Everybody in the [Chattanooga] plant will have to go through a mandatory computer-based High Voltage and Electro Mobility awareness training,” said Subasi.

Current employees and apprentices alike are excited for these new training options. “We’ve been preparing for this [curriculum] since 2019 and the students are aware of our strategies and the changes we’re undergoing,” said Wegener. “The students really enjoy it and are eager to get their hands on the new technologies… they see the electric car, they see the batteries and they see how we bring the robots inside, but they aren’t just learning on paper.”

Steffi Wegener, the technical training supervisor at Volkswagen Chattanooga.

The Academy has worked hard to bring students back on site so they could continue their hands-on learning. However, due to COVID-19, the Academy has also supplemented the training with additional online courses.

Looking towards the future, the Academy is considering expanding its current curriculum to include new topics like 3D printing, cybersecurity and advanced robotics. Subasi and his team are frequently adjusting and advancing the curriculum to stay ahead of the curve.

“In the next five years, we can work on technology [that will] change the charging process,” said Subasi, like technology that would allow for wireless charging at parking stations.

The Volkswagen Academy will welcome a new class of students in the fall.