Jobs IRL

How Georgia is training workers to make EVs at Hyundai’s massive Metaplant

David Brancaccio and Nic Perez Jun 12, 2024
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Construction of Hyundai's Metaplant, which is expected to employ 8,500 workers, underway in October 2023. Courtesy Hyundai
Jobs IRL

How Georgia is training workers to make EVs at Hyundai’s massive Metaplant

David Brancaccio and Nic Perez Jun 12, 2024
Heard on:
Construction of Hyundai's Metaplant, which is expected to employ 8,500 workers, underway in October 2023. Courtesy Hyundai
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have said that if they occupy the White House come January, America will be making more things in America. But who will have the skills to do those jobs? For our Jobs IRL series, Marketplace’s David Brancaccio traveled to Georgia and examined three efforts to develop the abilities workers from all walks of life will need to expand the U.S. manufacturing base. Today, a look at how the largest economic development project in Georgia’s history is working to fill those ranks.


On a given day, more than 5,000 people show up to a construction site 30 minutes outside Savannah, Georgia. It’s massive — six times the size of California Disneyland — and construction is happening at a fast clip. A dirt road today may not exist tomorrow.

When the Metaplant comes online, the carmaker Hyundai, in collaboration with nearby suppliers, expects to pump out up to 300,000 electric vehicles per year as well as batteries.

When you think of Savannah, great food, Southern hospitality and the city’s port come to mind. But it’s not known for building cars.

There isn’t an automotive ecosystem here, but what we know is that we can teach people how to build cars,” said Brent Stubbs, head of learning and development for Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America.

You can also teach them how to drive a forklift in a car factory. Or how to use spongy foam in 3D shapes.  

I mean, I never worked with anything with my hands, but I said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do it,'” said Ka’Lana Lewis, a trainee at a Hyundai supplier called Transys, which makes the device in the car that holds your behind.

We are not here to play. This is somebody’s actual seat that is going to be in the car, so I have to learn this correctly,” she said. “So the first thing that I have to do is, one, scan the frame, then scan the cushion, and then apply it on with the jig. Then they have to pass it on through to the next person for that step.”

Lewis delivered packages before joining Transys in February, but she got her new moves down so fast that she’s now leader of her trainee team. 

“That young lady right there is a 100% seat expert,” said Billy Baker, operations manager for Hyundai Transys, Savannah. “She knew nothing about manufacturing. She knew nothing about seat assembly. She knew nothing about automotive industry.”

How does a delivery driver make this metamorphosis? “By pushing her through the Quick Start program,” Baker said.

“And soon enough, everything else was like riding a bicycle,” Lewis recounted.

The Quick Start program is part of Georgia’s technical college system. The program’s been in place for over 50 years. It partners with companies willing to come to the state or expand here and trains incoming workers in facilities just like those of Transys.

Companies, when they are looking at launching a brand-new operation, are faced with all kinds of different challenges. We take the training part of their initial cadre of workforce off of their plate,” said Scott McMurray, deputy commissioner for Georgia Quick Start. “All of our training services are provided free of charge to the company. And so we are fully 100% funded by the taxpayers of Georgia.”

The result is that on Day 1 of Metaplant operations, workers like Lewis will be on the assembly line, ready to go.

An overview of a campus with grassy green areas and buildings, where
A rendering of Hyundai’s Metaplant campus in Savannah, where electric vehicles will be built. (Courtesy Hyundai)

Our training services basically are reinvested right back into the residents here,” McMurray said.

Hyundai has promised that Metaplant jobs will pay an average of just over $58,000 a year, plus benefits — which is about 7% more than the average pay in the area.

At another Hyundai supplier, Mobis, they’re learning to assemble electric propulsion motors, front ends. “Yep, yep, all that,” said Alex Bowser. “It’s essentially the front part of the car.” Even the thing inside the bumper that makes the funny electric car warning noise.

Bowser came to Mobis when the stone-slab manufacturing place he worked for closed in January.

It was a good job. I was there for about five years,” he said. “I’m in the auto industry now, and that alone feels like a security blanket. To be working with electric vehicles, it’s kind of the way of the future too.”

If all goes well, the Metaplant will come online by the end of the year, and those 5,000 construction workers will be replaced by 8,500 workers making the vehicles. Georgia is providing more than $2 billion in tax incentives, the most for a project in the state’s history, which helped attract the plant. It’s all part of a colossal — and perhaps risky — bet by both Hyundai and the state of Georgia that electric vehicles are how a lot of us will get around in the coming years. 

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