Prompted by the need for more skilled workers, Volkswagen officials announced Wednesday the addition of a robotronics course option in its apprenticeship program.

“There are 600,000 open or unfilled manufacturing positions in the United States and there are actually not enough skilled workers that can do that specific job,” VW Technical Training Assistant Manager Ilker Subasi said during the press conference Wednesday. “We have to have the right people and the right competency and the right qualification.”

Volkswagen made the announcement that this new course would be replacing its Automation Mechatronics program.

Volkswagen is moving toward the use of autonomous robots more in its production like, and the robotronics program revolves around teaching subjects and skills that are more technology-based instead of mechanics-based.

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The two-year robotronics curriculum will cover topics such as augmented reality, autonomous robots, cybersecurity, big data and system integration.

The coursework is distributed so that 70 percent of the students’ time is spent working hands-on in the factory. Volkswagen also pays students $14 an hour for their time working in the factory.

Caleb Higginbotham, a current employee who completed his apprenticeship, said that the program’s structure is what ultimately drew him to the program.

“I didn’t want to go into a traditional school, because I didn’t enjoy high school,” he said. “When I read about how hands-on [the program was], it struck a chord for me.”

The course is taken as a dual enrollment with Chattanooga State Community College. All classes are taken on the Volkswagen site and tuition costs are also covered by Volkswagen.

The robotronics program will accept 24 students each year into the program. Applications for the next year’s program open every January. Volkswagen receives about 120 applications every year.

Those wishing to enroll must be college-ready and have the commitment to complete the two-year program.

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She is a graduate of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she received a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in political science. Alina has over three years of journalism experience including time spent with CNN and 2nd & Church, a magazine based in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Alina at [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah

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