BMW program introduces Upstate students to advanced manufacturing

Photo by Will Crooks/Upstate Business Journal

BMW Manufacturing Co. in Spartanburg County is launching a new program to introduce Upstate students to advanced manufacturing.

The Driving STEM (an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics”) program, which runs through October, provides middle and high school students with an inside look at how the German-based manufacturer builds vehicles using robotics and other advanced manufacturing techniques, according to a news release. 

“If we’re going to develop the future workforce, we need to expose young people to advanced manufacturing careers early,” said Ryan Childers, department manager for talent programs at BMW, in the release. “A program like Driving STEM will give them a glimpse of an exciting and high-tech manufacturing career.”

As part of the program, students will participate in a series of workshops inside the BMW Zentrum, the company’s 28,000-square-foot visitors center and museum, according to the release. Activities will include virtual-reality sessions, circuit board-building exercises, and interactive lessons about the use of collaborative robots and automated guided vehicles.

Students will also be able to observe how the production line operates at BMW when they tour the company’s X3/X4 assembly hall, which is currently being expanded to house production of the new X5 beginning in 2019, according to the release. 

“An experience like Driving STEM may provide motivation for students to consider a future career in a STEM-related field,” Childers said. “Advanced manufacturing jobs require more skills as technology changes, but this also means higher wages and a rewarding career.”

Aerial footage shows the BMW plant in Spartanburg County. Photo provided.

BMW’s “Driving STEM” program coincides with National Manufacturing Week, Oct. 1-7, “a nationwide celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next-generation workforce,” according to the company.

Nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed over the next decade, but 2 million of those jobs are expected to go unfilled due to a lack of skilled personnel, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

Students participating in the “Driving STEM” program will also learn about the BMW Scholars program, an apprenticeship program that educates and trains students to work in the highly technical environment of advanced manufacturing.

BMW partners with Spartanburg Community College, Greenville Technical College, Tri-County Technical College, and Piedmont Technical College to provide education in four fields of study: automotive technology, equipment maintenance, production technology, and logistics/supply-chain management.

Students selected for the Scholars program attend class full-time and work at BMW’s manufacturing facility in Spartanburg County for 20 to 25 hours per week. BMW contributes $1,500 towards the cost of tuition and books, provides health care benefits, and pays students for their work, according to the release. 

“The BMW Scholars program was announced in 2011, and over the past seven years, there have been 180 BMW Scholar graduates,” said Gadrian Zayas, section manager for technical training at BMW, in the release. “Every scholar graduate has been offered a full-time job at BMW Manufacturing.”

While BMW’s Driving STEM workshops are filled for the fall semester, additional workshops may be offered in the spring semester of 2019, according to the company. 

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