As FAME Star Shines, Chamber Formalizes Partnership with Rocket City Chapter

From the time Toyota launched its flagship Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) initiative in 2014, city leaders praised it as a promising and much needed apprenticeship training program and recruitment tool for the entire region.

AMTs Paul Logston and Brandon Powers working at Huntsville’s EFi Inc.

Now the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce is formalizing its support for the Rocket City Chapter of FAME Alabama with an official partnership.

According to Lydia Pennington, Chamber Industry Relations director, this new partnership includes local industry and education partners, and the North Alabama Manufacturing Institute.

“Making this partnership official will help support Toyota and AL FAME as a trusted employer-led talent solution,” said Pennington. “For several years, the Chamber has been a constant presence in support of the program and that has not changed, but more than 10,000 new manufacturing jobs have been announced over the past three years in Huntsville/Madison County. That accounts for more than 80 percent of total job announcements, so we are excited about this.”

FAME also got the attention of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle who, in a panel discussion after his State of the City Address, said his administration was discussing strategy, trying to shore up anything that could prevent Huntsville from realizing its full potential when FAME filled in some problem areas.

“At the time, Toyota was advertising for 200 jobs, and they had 10,000 people apply,” he said. “That showed us we had an under-employment issue that needed to be addressed.”

Pennington said the partnership will also help the Rocket City chapter grow and diversify into other industries besides automotive – in fact, that is already happening.

Brown Precision, a machine manufacturing company in Huntsville, has been onboard almost from the beginning.

“The FAME program is the most effective way we have found to solve the problem of finding qualified industrial maintenance technicians,” said Co-CEO Greg Brown. “We have over 50 CNC machine tools that need constant planned/preventive maintenance and occasional major repairs.

“I’ve been impressed by the rigor of the FAME program’s technical education as well as the program’s emphasis on the ‘essential’ skills required to be a part of a successful organization. I am thankful that the FAME program has filled a critical void for Brown Precision Inc.”

Matthew Johnson, Dante Thomas and Matthew Rolin at FAME graduation.

In Huntsville, FAME enrollment has more than doubled since 2014 and that jump in 2019 was a topic of discussion last September when First Daughter Ivanka Trump visited the Manufacturing Institute to celebrate the partnership that brought the FAME USA apprenticeship program under MI leadership.

“Toyota did something exceptional in creating a pilot that was excellent, to train that next generation of high-tech manufacturers, and then we start to scale it across the country,” Trump said. “FAME is an example of manufacturing taking best class practices from the private sector and scaling that opportunity so that many, many, more Americans can experience this pathway of acquired skills through this great program.

“We’re seeing people who have previously been on the sidelines of our economy, now entering the workforce and securing the skills that they need to not just get a job, but to secure a career.”

Findings in a report put out by the Brookings Institution and Opportunity America show AL FAME is one of the most successful apprenticeship models in the country. The report draws special attention to FAME’s benefits for less advantaged students, including older learners and those not planning to attend college.

Apprenticeship is the only path to a postsecondary credential and well-paying career for these people but, with COVID-19, a more job-focused education and training is also an option.

“Our study highlights what a growing group of manufacturing employers already know,” said Opportunity America President Tamar Jacoby, one of the authors of the report. “The FAME program works to prepare learners for today’s rapidly changing economy, teaching not just technical skills but also critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork.”

Today, FAME is a national network of nearly 400 companies in 13 states, with more than 1,100 Advanced Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) completing the program.

“We welcome this partnership with the Chamber, which we know will allow us to continue to grow … the workforce needs of this region,” said Scott Russo, president of the Rocket City Chapter of AL FAME. “The rapid growth of this chapter shows the value of the FAME model, and now, with more than 20 companies sponsoring AMTs, it is a great time to add an experienced and trusted partner to help us manage the Chapter.”

For Tony Davis, senior director for Workforce Initiatives for MI and FAME USA national leader, the partnership is a model for a win-win situation.

“With the Chamber helping employers solve their skilled position needs while growing local workforce capacity, at the same time theses employers are strengthening their pipeline of global-best talent while fostering relationships with local schools to continue to feed that pipeline,” said Davis. “All of this makes the area more attractive for continued growth, ensuring the entire region benefits from the economies created through this partnership.”

There are 51 graduates from the Rocket City Chapter of FAME, and there are currently 73 students enrolled in the Huntsville program.

“The Chamber is committed to supporting the FAME Rocket City Chapter and helping it grow to meet local demand,” said Pennington.