In addition to building Passats in its Chattanooga plant, Volkswagen builds a workforce through its onsite academy. That’s because job applicants arrive unprepared for technical careers, deficient in STEM skills and critical thinking capabilities. Daniel DeScalzo and Tarah Kemp also prepare a pipeline of qualified employees, they just happen to be doing it at nearby Dupont Elementary School.
“As we reflected on the impact of Volkswagen in our county, we grew curious about the influence of European branches of the company in educational communities abroad,” said Daniel. “We designed a Fund for Teachers fellowship to explore how assembly plants in Barcelona, Brussels, Ingolstadt and Wolfsburg, Germany, partner with schools to create an interdependency that produces gainfully-employed high school graduates.”
With help from Volkswagen’s senior vice president of human resources, the teachers researched real-world skills modeled in European plants and discovered that most of the employees on assembly lines were 17- or 18-year-olds who left work in nice cars and drove to comfortable homes. Technical and vocational training during primary school years positioned these students for careers and often fully-paid graduate degrees with the company.
Exposure to the inner-workings of the automobile plants helped Daniel and Tarah realize that the missing link between their students’ knowledge and future STEM professions was a deficiency in engineering design. In response, Tarah established a network among local business executives to increase students’ exposure to job opportunities close to home. She also pitched an idea to Public Education Foundation’s Teacherpreneur program to obtain funding for a 3-5 year initiative that promotes hands-on, project-based learning through a culinary unit. Daniel applied funds saved from the FFT grant toward the purchase of robotic kits and invited mechanical engineers from a local pump manufacturer to partner with students on prototypes.
“If you ask our students about career goals, they would list being a YouTube personality, sports star, video gamer or fashion designer,” said Daniel. “Through exposure to industry opportunities and engineers, we want students to say, ‘I want to make things, design things, do this for a living.’ We want them to know there’s so much opportunity out there and empower them to make a life for themselves and the world awaiting them.”
(pictured above touring Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg plant, the largest automotive factory in Europe.)