DeAngelo Ellison was already part of the automotive technology program at Gwinnett Technical College when the announcement came: The school and Mercedes-Benz had joined forces to train mechanics for its elite cars. He immediately signed up and became one of the first 25 students to be part of the Mercedes-Benz College Automotive Program, a workforce development project designed to equip and prepare students for jobs with the car company.
“Mercedes are the best; they’re top of the line,” said the Loganville resident. “So I was excited when I found out about this program. I’ve always had a passion for cars, and I like repairing and restoring them, but Mercedes-Benz is a very different car. The technology alone is pretty intense. We’re learning new stuff every day, and most of all, we’re learning to be problem solvers.”
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The German carmaker and Gwinnett Tech teamed up two years ago to develop a partnership designed to give students associate degrees with a focus on Mercedes-Benz training. In addition to education, students work as interns at local dealerships with the goal of landing a job after graduation. The program is also a model the company hopes to replicate in other markets around the country.
“Our mission is workforce development,” said Mary Beth Byerly, Gwinnett Tech’s vice president of institutional advancement. “If new companies want to build their workforces, we want to be at the table about what their needs might be. When Mercedes-Benz relocated to Sandy Springs, we worked with them to train a lot of the new employees. They also needed a training program, and we realized we could help with that, too.”
To get the Gwinnett program off the ground, Mercedes-Benz provided six vehicles, learning resources, technical support and a financial investment that allowed the school to remodel a lab. Gwinnett Tech instructor Mark Whittaker, a 1999 alumni of the school’s automotive program who’s been teaching in the same program for almost five years, jumped at the chance to lead the 16-week, hands-on Mercedes training.
“Mercedes is the car,” he said. “The technology is very specific to the manufacturer, so there’s a lot to learn. Compared to what we were teaching 10 or 15 years ago, it’s very different; it’s about networking computers and vehicles. It’s not just about getting dirty anymore. In fact, getting dirty may not be a good idea around some of these cars with sophisticated computers.”
Along with taking the specific Mercedes training and meeting all the basic requirements for an associate’s degree, students will spend time on the job, said Whittaker. “This is a manufacturer supported program, so students go out and interview with dealers who are looking to be part of the program. Right now, we’re serving nine dealers in the metro area and Macon and Augusta, and they’re looking to keep these students on.”
Working for Mercedes-Benz is the end goal for Elizabeth Tallent, who left a job as a retail supervisor to become the only woman in the program.
“The automotive industry is growing, and Mercedes-Benz is the best,” said the Lilburn resident. “When I saw this program, I wanted to be a part of it. I don’t find it as hard as I thought, and every day I’m more and more comfortable. And I like that I’m always exercising my brain and being active the whole day.”
Tallent and the inaugural cohort of Mercedes-Benz trainees are on track to graduate in May 2019. The next group of 25 will start their training in August.
Information about Gwinnett Technical College’s Automotive Technology programs: GwinnettTech.edu.