Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers are more sought after than ever and businesses are keen to develop new ways to cultivate that workforce. The deliberate method Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Texas, Inc. (TMMTX) is using to develop its local workforce is not only yielding results in San Antonio, it’s gaining national attention as the federal government looks to adopt Toyota practices.
The Toyota Way, a set of guiding principles on continuous improvement that underlies the Toyota Motor Corporation's managerial approach, not only drives its enviable production system, it defines everything Toyota does. For Toyota Texas, this approach is being used to help create skilled employees for its Southside plant.
Toyota's approach to community engagement evolved over time. During its first five years in San Antonio, there were plenty of misconceptions about the company’s approach to philanthropy.
“When we first started out (in November 2006), I’d say we used more of a shotgun approach, funding across multiple counties,” External Relations and Government Affairs Director Mario Lozoya said. “You have to remember, we’re the only Toyota manufacturing facility in the entire state of Texas, yet we were getting lots of gift requests. Our ability to respond to gift requests is based on the footprint of the San Antonio plant, not Toyota global’s budget.”
With so many requests for funding, most of which did not take Toyota’s need for a steady pipeline of skilled workers into consideration, it was hit or miss at first.
“In our first five years we weren’t effective in moving the needle on workforce development, so five years ago we decided to work on ways to improve our effectiveness,” Lozoya explained.
‘Backyard’ Strategy Targets Toyota’s Future Workforce
Because Toyota’s approach is to always look for ways to improve processes, the push for better results started with looking at where the plant’s employees lived. The results showed that the majority lived in or near Bexar County, in close proximity to the plant. This led Toyota Texas to adopt its ‘backyard’ strategy of focusing development efforts in areas where future workers would most likely live – in and close to the plant in Bexar County.
Toyota Texas has distinct needs when it comes to its workforce: the workers that maintain the Toyota Tundra and Tacoma production lines must be highly skilled in technology in order to repair robotics and other technical equipment used in its advanced manufacturing.
To foster future workers skilled in robotics, Toyota Texas is supporting teams participating in the Alamo-FIRST (Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition. Five years ago, Toyota Texas started with four or five teams. Today, it underwrites 30 teams from schools surrounding the Southside plant. And for the first time this year, the Toyota plant hosted a robotics summer camp for participating students.
Furthermore, Toyota Texas awarded BiblioTech $15,000 to launch a team robotics program named the First Lego League (FLL). By introducing younger students to real-world engineering challenges via Lego robotics, students learn how to develop solutions to a current scientific question or problem – exactly the skill set Toyota Texas needs in its advanced manufacturing.
After robotics repair, Toyota's other pressing need is for workers on the production lines, which make up about 80% of its total workforce. High school graduates can transition into working at the plant, receive on-the-job training, and expect to make a good salary. Still, with low unemployment rates in San Antonio, there are never enough high school graduates to meet demand.
To help close the gap, Toyota Texas awarded a $20,000 grant to BiblioTech through the Hidalgo Foundation to provide GED testing services at the library branches. The vehicle manufacturer is also partnering with the Bexar County Correctional System to tap into the potential workforce of individuals who have served their sentences by providing financial support for GED completion. Working with lawyers to address potential liability issues, eligible former inmates who might otherwise struggle to find a place in society after their release now have the opportunity to get their GED and apply as an assembler at the Toyota plant.
Toyota Texas has also funded full ride scholarships for minorities at Texas A&M University–San Anotio. By partnering with My Brother’s Keeper-San Antonio (MBKSA), these scholarships address the lack of black male teachers in local schools who can act as mentors to encourage young men of color to continue their education. Lozoya, who also chairs My Brother’s Keeper workforce committee, said Toyota Texas and the two organizations reached into local educational data provided by the P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County and discovered this educational gap.
The Toyota-funded scholarship for a two-year degree at Alamo Colleges similarly seeks to provide opportunities for local students and fill Toyota's need for skilled tech workers. The memorandum of agreement between Toyota Texas and the community college district will help produce technicians needed in advanced manufacturing economy.
While the list of Toyota Texas efforts to develop its local workforce has not yet reached its full potential, it reveals the key elements in its strategy: Target Toyota’s backyard, look for leverage points where Toyota can be most effective, and find community partners for maximum collective impact.
Toyota Helps Community Partners, Too
It’s not just the targeted efforts to develop more STEM skilled workers and high school graduates for its production line that motivates Toyota Texas. In working with its community partners Toyota executives also recognized that many families in the economically disadvantaged zip codes surrounding the manufacturing facility have limited access to essential services such as medical clinics and fresh groceries.
Through its expertise in streamlining processes via continuous improvement, the Toyota Production System (TPS) has become an effective way to maximize operation potential while reducing errors and waste. Toyota originally established as a separate entity the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC) in 1992 to share the Toyota Production System techniques with Toyota-related suppliers.
In 2011, Toyota launched its national program to donate its TPS expertise to help schools, hospitals, and nonprofits improve their operations and increase their impact. Linking the TSSC experts with the branches of the San Antonio Food Bank and CentroMed clinic on the Southside led to considerable improvement in both operations.
“About two years (ago) we applied for this support. We were the first Texas nonprofit to receive this help,” Michael Guerra, chief development officer for the San Antonio Food Bank said. “We had classroom training and on-site implementation support to help streamline our operations.
“TSSC has also checked in periodically to see how our improved processes were working. We applied the TPS process to the packing of our outbound food orders to local nonprofits ordering from our food inventory. Within the first year that we used TPS, the amount of errors in our orders dropped 80%,” Guerra added.
The Southside CentroMed clinic also benefited from the pro bono Toyota expertise.
“Toyota shared their expertise to help us standardize our patient registering process for back-to-school immunizations,” vice president of development and marketing for CentroMed, Ana Maria Garza Cortez said. “Not only did we reduce the wait at our back-to-school events, it improved our work flow and the experience for the patients.”
“Toyota also provided school supplies and helped us streamline the school supply assembly process,” Garza Cortez added. “The wait before was typically three to four hours, but now clients are done within an hour. We are honored to have Toyota as a partner not only in their contribution in school supplies but in their expertise and willingness to share it in the community.”
Toyota Helps Streamline Federal Government
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary and former Mayor of San Antonio Julián Castro directed Nani Coloretti, HUD’s then recently appointed deputy secretary, to reach out to TSSC – a pro bono resource – to help streamline HUD processes.
The first area in which TSSC’s system was implemented was in HUD's hiring process. Before TSSC’s involvement, HUD’s lengthy, complicated federal hiring process took an average of 84 days. Now it’s down to 11 days. This is a hiring process the federal government has been trying to improve for many years. In comparison, the Office of Personnel Management still cites an 80-day “standard” or average hiring time frame.
Because of Toyota Texas' partnerships with local organizations like Texas A&M University and Alamo Colleges, the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor are interested in possibly working with Toyota Texas to see if Toyota Texas' approaches to local workforce development strategies could be adapted for their use. While Toyota Texas remains focused on its backyard strategy for developing its workforce in San Antonio, sharing its approaches with others who are interested is a reflection of the Toyota Way.
Top image: Key players in the HUD-Toyota collaborative effort (from left): TSSC General Manager Bobby Graves, HUD Secretary Julián Castro, TSSC Manager Tom Jones, HUD Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti, and TSSC President Takashi Horinouchi. Photo courtesy of Toyota.