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IMS Gear starts apprentice program with Lanier Tech
Students will learn 'mechatronics'
Members of the first apprentice class at IMS Gear are, from left, Chad Sitzwohl, Travis Swafford, Seth Frye and Christian Johnson. Johnson is a 2016 graduate of North Hall High School. - photo by RON BRIDGEMAN

A program common in Germany, where IMS Gear is headquartered, will soon have an American version in Gainesville.

A four-year apprentice program, leading to a journeyman designation for mechatronics will start at IMS with four men.

Gregory Vitek, president of IMS, officially announced the program Tuesday at Lanier Technical College, which will provide classroom instruction for the four.

Vitek said the Gainesville plant designs and makes “highly sophisticated, engineered” parts for vehicles.

Vitek said the first class is just the beginning. He said IMS plans for another apprentice class in 2017 of six people, and then eight. After four years, he said, the company should have 24 to 32 people in its pipeline.

He said plans include expanding the “supervised learning” program to toolmaking and plastic injection molding, other skills taught and used at the plant.

More than 120 million auto parts per year are manufactured in Gainesville, he said.

Car parts are made for Ford, GM, Subaru, Chrysler, BMW, John Deere and Caterpillar, Vitek said.

The company is headquartered in the Black Forest area of Germany, where Vitek said apprentice programs have been in operation for decades. He noted the apprentice program here is “modeled closely” on the German operation.

Mechatronics combines mechanical and electronic disciplines with computer and control elements.

Vitek noted the field is not new but has gained increasing attention. He said Kennesaw State now offers a bachelor’s degree in the field.

The four who are starting the program “will be very skilled people” if they complete the training, he said.

They will have a journeyman’s card in mechatronics, an associate degree in industrial systems technology and four years experience.

The four will be IMS employees and receive a salary during their training. They will attend Lanier Tech for classroom instruction in the evenings.

Members of the first group are Seth Frye, Christian Johnson, Chad Sitzwohl and Travis Swafford.

The first year will be mostly classroom instruction, Vitek said, and the four will then start working in the plant, learning from more experienced, skilled employees.

In addition, Vitek said IMS is starting a Work-Based Learning program, hiring high school students as interns. Baylon Mitchell, who will be a senior at North Hall High, will be the first WBL student, he said.

Ley Hathcock, digital convergence specialist for Hall County schools, praised IMS Gear officials for visiting classrooms.

Industry representatives “setting foot inside the high school has a dramatic effect on students,” Hathcock said.

Company officials make educational goals real in a way teachers “in front of a smart board” cannot, he said.

Ray Perren, president of Lanier Tech, told the group, “our mission is workforce development. That’s what we’re all about.”

Representatives of the state technical college system, Georgia Mountain Regional Commission, the Department of Labor and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce also spoke at the announcement.