Toyota commits $1M to high school workforce program

Automakers, including Toyota, plan to return to work in Indiana the week of May 11. (photo courtesy of Toyota)

PRINCETON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Seniors at Gibson County high schools will get a chance to earn money and learn a trade starting next school year through a new initiative at the Toyota automotive factory in Princeton.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana has announced a $1 million commitment over the next four years to a new, regional workforce program in Gibson County. The goal is to help connect high school students in three high schools in the county with career opportunities in advanced manufacturing.

“By collaborating with our local schools, we are creating a workforce solution—but, more importantly—providing greater visibility to student career options and pathways in the region,” said Leah Curry, Toyota Indiana plant president, who attended Gibson county schools.

The academic initiative was announced last week when Toyota Indiana also announced an additional $700 million in the Princeton plant and the addition of 150 more jobs by the end of 2022. Toyota says the investment completes the modernization project announced in January 2017.

The program, called 4T Academy, is launching next fall. Juniors and seniors from Princeton Community High School, Wood Memorial Jr/Sr High School, and Gibson Southern High School will be eligible to apply for the program.

“We’ve had other opportunities to collaborate with industry on a small scale, but this is going to be the first opportunity to collaborate with industry on a large scale like Toyota,” said Eric Goggins, assistant superintendent of North Gibson School Corp.

4T stands for each school’s mascot, Tigers (Princeton), Trojans (Wood Memorial), Titans (Gibson Southern), and Toyota.

According to TMMI, an average of 68% of Gibson County high school graduates enroll in college, but only 38% graduate.

“For so many years. It’s been pushed that college is the way to go. And that is true for many students,” Goggins said. “Then, they go and find out it isn’t the way to go. This program will provide an opportunity for kids to figure out if manufacturing is a part of their future career while they’re in high school.”

The academy will provide students with a high school-based curriculum in advanced manufacturing that is dual credited by Ivy Tech. It will also provide on-the-job training at Toyota during their junior and senior year of high school.

During their senior year, Toyota will be paying students for that training which will occur at the manufacturing plant during the school day.

“They’re getting exposed, trained and developed on new technologies that you don’t really have the opportunity to be able to see, much less use,” said Curry.

Goggins says high school guidance counselors will be providing students with the opportunity to consider participation in this program during course registration for 2020-2021.

“Interesting enough, we put the word out…to just a few specific classes and kids were coming back after those meetings and knocking on their guidance counselors and saying, ‘I want to be a part of this,’” said Goggins.

The three Gibson County school corporations have posted the position for a 4T Manufacturing director/instructor on their websites, but the job will be based at Princeton High School.

The Princeton plant produces the Sienna minivan, the large SUV Sequoia and the mid-sized SUV Highlander and Highlander hybrid. TMMI will cease production of the Toyota Sequoia by 2022.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, North Gibson School Corp. assistant superintendent Eric Goggins says the 4T Academy is a great opportunity to learn and earn.