When Mack Trucks, Inc. was looking for a site to build a new line of medium-duty trucks, Virginia’s Roanoke Region was a top consideration. The company already had a plant in nearby Pulaski County — where its sister company, Volvo Trucks, operates its largest manufacturing facility in the world — so it knew the area well. “If you like where you are, it doesn’t hurt to stay around the same place,” said Antonio Servidoni, vice president of operations for Mack Trucks’ Roanoke Valley Operations (RVO).
One big point in Roanoke’s favor was Virginia Western Community College’s (VWCC) advanced technology education programs, which train skilled workers to serve the area’s advanced manufacturing base and growing automotive industry.
Mack Trucks began production at its RVO facility in Roanoke County in 2020. The company has worked closely with VWCC to bring in students for internships and apprenticeships. The VWCC associate’s degree program in applied science has a focus on mechatronic systems engineering technology, a cross-discipline that combines mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering to meet high-performance manufacturing industry standards. The college also offers mechatronics fundamentals courses that prepare individuals for immediate employment and future training opportunities.
Given this backdrop, “VWCC has a good understanding of our needs, and they adapt to fulfill our needs,” Servidoni said. RVO offers three- to six-month apprenticeships, and the plant finds full-time positions for almost all apprentices. The facility also has a shadowing program where students can work with community college alumni to see what it’s like to work as a maintenance or product technician.
The program got its start when a regional company liaison contacted Milan Hayward, vice president of the School of Career and Corporate Training at VWCC, asking if they offered a course on the 7 Basic Quality Tools for Process Improvement, a quality improvement program focused on problem solving and process improvements. VWCC did not have a curriculum on hand, but Hayward was quick to ask for details about the need and requested meetings with local Mack Trucks leadership, management, and employees.
From that, VWCC developed a 14-module program for Mack that’s now welcoming its second cohort. Training is conducted at the plant to minimize employee travel and maximize participation.
The plant is on its third cohort for VWCC’s leadership and supervisory essentials training. About 20% of the plant’s personnel will go through this training. With employee advancement on the rise during what’s been dubbed “the Great Resignation,” VWCC’s supervision fundamentals program has become more popular, as many people have been promoted to supervisory roles without prior management experience.
They are exceptional people at Virginia Western. They have always been very responsive and accommodating to find a solution. It’s a great partnership.
Hayward says many companies don’t know that VWCC has provided corporate training for nearly 30 years. “Most are familiar with our college courses and skills-based training,” he said. “But we are also an excellent resource for corporate training solutions, from supervision and diversity topics to the technical skills most in demand on the shop floor.” Companies may call him about one training need, and by the end of that conversation, discover the community college can offer many more solutions.
VWCC focuses on “middle skill” solutions ranging from software to industrial skills training, and instructors are typically subject matter experts.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with Antonio and the entire Mack team,” Hayward said. “They have a compelling vision for their operation, and employee development is key to their business.”
“They are exceptional people at Virginia Western,” Servidoni said. “They have always been very responsive and accommodating to find a solution. It’s a great partnership.”