Toyota workforce training program

Toyota workforce program lands skilled techs at the dealerships

The T-TEN program teaches students how to service Toyota and Lexus vehicles

Almost 20 years ago, Toyota launched a manufacturing program aimed at developing highly-skilled workers to make its vehicles. It’s led to hundreds of graduates and is considered a model for how industry is solving its own workforce problem. The next step was a program to maintain its vehicles – called T-TEN (Technician Training and Education Network).

“Instead of the students being prepared to work on the equipment at a manufacturing facility, they are being trained to service and repair the vehicles built in our manufacturing plants,” says Joseph Myers, technician development manager for Toyota Motor North America (TMNA).

“The other major difference is who is hiring the students. Toyota Motor North America, based in Plano, Texas, provides the structure, curriculum, and training assets for T-TEN, but the students are employed by Toyota and Lexus dealerships which are independent franchises instead of TMNA,” explains Myers.

The classroom education component of the program trains students to service and repair Toyota and Lexus vehicles and is now in 37 locations nationwide, including underrepresented communities such as West Philadelphia, Hialeah, Florida, and a partnership with the only Historically Black College and University with an auto program – Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama.

The company partners with community colleges, a Universal Technical Institute and two with Job Corps – a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored program. The classroom or lab training requires 1,300 in-person hours with one of these partners, where the students learn components and concepts such as the fundamentals of automotives, brakes, suspension, engine repair, engine performance, electrical, steering suspension, transmission, and drive train.

The cost to the student is established by the training institutions, aligning with their cost-per-credit hour. Some students are eligible to receive grants and financial aid based on income and a growing number of dealerships are providing scholarships. As a government subsidized program, expenses are covered for Job Corps students.

Additionally, a 640-hour internship at a Toyota or Lexus dealership is required. The result is a certification that recognizes the individual is qualified to do warranty work.

“I’ve gotten some real rock stars out of it,” says Brian Lawrence, service director with Mark Miller Toyota in Salt Lake City, Utah. “With the program that’s close to me here through Job Corps, the teachers, program, and counselors are all 100% committed to trying to make these kids fantastic.”

Lawrence currently has four T-TEN students working in the express lane, and estimates more than 40% of his shop are graduates of the program. He believes in the program so much that he visits local high schools to promote the program.

“I talk to their seniors to help them understand there is an outlet to help them get a great wage,” he says. “I usually use my wife as an example. She still has a $60,000 debt to become a kindergarten teacher. If you like being a mechanic, you can spend $25,000 to make just as much as her.”

Mark Miller Toyota line technician Erick Lomeli was already a Toyota customer several times over when he considered this pathway. He says he’s always had an interest in cars since he was younger and his uncle had previously gone through the program. Lomeli graduated from the program through Job Corps, and was hired to a full-time job from his internship. He credits the real-world experience with teaching him more about the job than the classroom.

Erick Lomeli, Toyota line technician in Salt Lake City, Utah

“Through the program, you get to know all the basic fundamentals in repairing a car. It’s the day-to-day experience; what I encounter on the daily as opposed to picking up a textbook and learning the material. That way wouldn’t necessarily have taught me how to turn a wrench,” he says. “Book smarts versus hands-on smarts.”

Completing the T-TEN program is not a guarantee of employment, but Myers says there are more employment opportunities available than they have graduates.

“Success is students gaining long-term employment in the industry with the skills necessary to service, diagnose, and repair today’s automobiles,” he says.

With that definition, Lomeli, who has been with Mark Miller Toyota for 14 years, is considered a success – for the program, the dealership, and his career.

“The program is definitely a good one. I strongly recommend it to anyone looking to get into the field,” he says. “The way Job Corps works is they provide you with a trade and their main goal is for you to have a job at the end of completion so that’s why they send you off to internships and apprenticeships and hopes you get hired on.

“I feel like it was definitely a better route to go because it was more of a guarantee that I’d have a job and I didn’t acquire all that student debt. It certainly got me to where I’m at today.”