Since Lucid Motors began operations of its Casa Grande plant, the company has hired over 1,000 employees. And all of them have first gone through the program at the Drive48 training center at Central Arizona College’s Signal Peak Campus.

The center, which opened in March, is currently the gateway to Lucid’s manufacturing careers. But long-term, the team that put the program together is hoping that Drive48 becomes the focal point for linking the local workforce to many major companies in the region.

Even now, the facility — named for Arizona, which is the 48th state — represents a major partnership between education, government and industry.

“This is a new way to learn how to build cars for our burgeoning EV industry,” said Dawn Grove, a board member of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. “In order to serve that job seeker, you’ve got to know what is going on with the businesses that are near you: what they need, what sort of training they are looking for. It’s been lovely to see that transformation happen here.”

The curriculum for the three-week course at the facility not only included input from Lucid, but involved a team of stakeholders, including CAC President Jackie Elliott and Casa Grande Economic Development Director Richard Wilkie, working together on a plan for almost five years.

“As educators we checked our egos at the door,” Elliott said of CAC’s participation. “But we were present and involved in a way the college hadn’t been in the past. It was a true partnership, working together on how we were going to meet employers’ needs.”

Inside the training center is a large central room with assembly robots as well as classrooms and smaller training showcases off to either side.

New Lucid hires are instructed on topics including the Lucid Production System, Lean Manufacturing principles and Environmental Health and Safety standards.

During a presentation for the National Governors’ Association, several of the robots were running while some of the teachers at Drive48 explained their various functions and how the trainees learned to operate them.

“We give them a lot of hands-on experience here,” said Steven Parker, manager of Drive48’s technical training program. “Maintenance people are not bookworms. They are really tactile and need to pick up a thing, figure out how it works. They need to make mistakes.”

The assembly robots work like large mechanical arms; there are four different types of robots at the facility and their functions include moving parts around, automobile body painting and dispensing adhesive.

Many of the robots — the Drive48 models are a near perfect match for the units the workers will find at the Lucid facility — have the capacity for different “end effectors,” or devices that go on the end of the robot arm to act as a “hand” or other kind of manipulator for whatever needs to be moved.

“It’s more than just pressing a start button,” Parker said of learning how the robots operate. “We teach the students how to do programming, how to notice when something gets modified or changed, and we have a class where we teach electrical maintenance.”

Parker said using the robots requires a strong foundation in concepts like hydraulics and pneumatic systems.

The side classrooms include vehicle models in various states of assembly; students can learn how to troubleshoot or work on smaller precision processes.

According to Mike Boike, Lucid’s head of Arizona operations, all of Lucid’s employees spend about a week at the Drive48 facility and then return for another several weeks of specialized training, depending on their role. Each class size is about 50-60 students, and there are 10 instructors.

Boike said he was impressed by how quickly the training center came together and that the new hires were coming in so fast that local housing had started to become an issue.

As Arizona brings in more and more manufacturers and adjacent industries, the Arizona Commerce Authority hopes to partner with community colleges to help place tens of thousands of new employees into that market. According to the ACA, 68% of new jobs in Arizona are currently in manufacturing.

The plan is for Drive48’s curriculum to meet the needs of Lucid, Nikola Motor Co. in Coolidge and more.

Wilkie said local municipalities’ role in supporting the workforce will include connecting companies like Lucid to the workforce providers; not just the colleges like CAC, but also agencies like Arizona@Work that directly aid in the hiring process. Wilkie also said that there is potential to line up K-12 schools’ curriculum with industry needs, such as developing dual certificate programs.

“We are big promoters,” Wilkie said. “We want to be involved.”

CAC already had a robust Industrial Technology and Skilled Trades program, and along with Lucid, has partnered with local companies like Sundt to develop a curriculum designed to directly place students in local employment.

Parker noted that even McDonald’s “french fry robots” and similar technology plays an important role at the Intel semiconductor plant in Chandler, or the Frito-Lay plant in Casa Grande.

“One, you learn one kind of robotics, you understand the concept,” Parker said. “So you can apply that somewhere else, like learning Windows on a Mac versus a PC.”

Drive48’s curriculum is part of a program designed by CAC, Pima, and Maricopa community colleges called the Arizona Advanced Technology Network.

“If we do this right,” Grove said, “for the next 10, 20, 30,000 jobs, we’ll fill those with people who are skilled to meet those jobs. Then others will come. CAC has done that and risen to the occasion.”

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.

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