Episode Description

In what is likely Host Cortney Piper’s favorite interview to date, she interviews Liliana Ramirez, Global Director of Workforce Development at Ford. Ramirez is responsible for using cutting-edge strategies to build the manufacturing workforce required for BlueOval City and BlueOval SK Battery Park.

In this episode, they discuss Ramirez’s 30+ year career at Ford, her passion for her work and how the company has changed since she joined in the early 1990s. The two also discuss Ford’s ambitious approach to workforce development, including BlueOval Learning and how it plans to fill 6,000 new jobs in West Tennessee!

Learn more about TAEBC and Ford’s BlueOval City. Thank you to our podcast sponsor FirstBank!

Episode Transcript

Cortney Piper: Welcome to Energizing Tennessee, powered by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and FirstBank. We’re your number-one podcast for news about Tennessee’s advanced energy sector. I’m your host, Cortney Piper.

How is Ford Motor Company training and empowering future workers to build out an electric vehicle future from West Tennessee? In a previous episode, I talked with Kel Kearns, plant manager of Ford’s BlueOval City, about the company’s EV commitments and progress on its $5.6 billion investment. Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Liliana Ramirez, Global Director of Workforce Development, about Ford’s approach to workforce development and how they plan to fill 6,000 jobs at BlueOval City.

And this is probably one of my most favorite episodes, not only because I drive a Ford but because Liliana’s passion, expertise, and intentionality for how to build Ford’s next-generation workforce is infectious. It brings me back to my Detroit roots and fills me with a new sense of pride for my adopted home state of Tennessee and BlueOval City.

And as always, if you like what you hear, don’t forget to leave a rating or review. It helps us reach a wider audience to champion Tennessee’s advanced energy sector.

Energizing Tennessee would not be possible without the support of TAEBC members and our sponsor, FirstBank. To learn more about FirstBank and how they can support you or your business, visit firstbankonline.com.

Liliana Ramirez, Global Director of Workforce Development at Ford Motor Company. Thanks for coming on the show!

Liliana Ramirez: Thanks so much, Cortney, for having me. I’m really excited to be here. It’s my first podcast and so, we’ll see what happens.

Cortney Piper: Very nice. Well, I’ve been looking forward to talking to you ever since we booked this interview.

So first, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Liliana Ramirez: I’ll start from the beginning. I was born in Chicago, Illinois and at a month old, I moved to Columbia, South America, moved back to the U.S. at age 10, went to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and I ended up with a full-ride scholarship to medical school.

I was planning to be a psychiatrist, believe it or not. And life happened, and I needed a job. So, I ended up working as a civilian for the U.S. Army at the Tank Automotive Command based out of Warren, Michigan. And so at that time, TACOM was offering a two-year program in logistics management.

And so, all the requirement determination and all of the ordering, and so I was able to go to school and work at the same time and received a logistics management certificate after two years, and it’s really, that credential that afforded me the opportunity to get into Ford Motor Company.

I started at Romeo Engine Plant, a really progressive plant. I was there for about maybe eight years. And then I went into a stamping facility at Chicago Stamping Plant. And so different roles, between production, lean manufacturing. I fell in love with that human side of lean manufacturing.

And so to the extent that I became the cultural director a few years back and am now workforce development, spending a lot of time in Tennessee working to build our workforce for our jobs at BlueOval City. I have three boys. People laugh when I say three boys because they’re 37, 26, and almost 25.

I have two grandchildren, as well – five and three years old – and just love to spend time with them.

Cortney Piper: That is amazing. And our listeners know I’m originally from Michigan, Southeastern Michigan around Detroit. So, hearing parts of your journey, my mom is a proud Wayne State graduate. So it’s just so great to hear your story.

Now, tell us a little bit more about your current role at Ford.

Liliana Ramirez: I have to go back to your mom must’ve been a tartar ’cause I was a tartar when I was at Wayne. So that’s nice to hear. Yeah. And so today I’m the workforce development director.

And, what that role is. It’s about connecting people, skills, and knowledge with jobs. And so, my team and I have the responsibility of preparing our workforce to be able to do their jobs when they start within the plant. So this includes anything from technical training to operational training and the cultural elements of the training.

And so, normally, my responsibility is within the four walls of the plant. Within Tennessee, we have strategically worked with the state, with the education system, and with the communities, and our focus right now is building that pipeline and identifying how we can skill people pre-employment. And I know that you’ve had Kel Kearns on your podcast earlier on, so I partner with Kel Kearns and his operating committee.

Andy Bianco is the lead of all of the learning and development for Tennessee. And we’re partnering really to build those foundational elements of our employee experience as it relates to training. And so anything from orientation to the core training of safety and quality and production and on-the-job training and, at the same time, really supporting the building of the workforce development programs with K through 12 in higher education. At the end of it all, our goal is to ensure that everyone who wants to join the Ford family has a pathway into the company and has an opportunity to increase their education to grow within the company.

And if you think about, you asked me Yeah. Just to tell you a little bit about myself, to me, the work that we’re doing in Tennessee is just so important because it supports the creation of those credentials, those certificates. Things that benefited me personally so much. So that’s where I’m at today.

Cortney Piper: What do you love most about what you do?

Liliana Ramirez: Oh my goodness. I love so much about what I do. It’s exciting. So manufacturing is just a fast-paced, high energy and never a dull moment. And I absolutely love it. I mentioned earlier, there’s this technical side of manufacturing, but then there’s this human element that includes culture and people and learning and behaviors. And so bringing out that human side in a very technical world is really a passion of mine also as a daughter of an immigrant, and for a long time, often the only Latina in the room. In manufacturing settings building that pipeline for women like myself or the underrepresented around the area of BlueOval city is really what I love today about what I do.

And what my team does it’s paying it forward for Tennessee.

Cortney Piper: What have you seen changed the most in the automotive industries since you first started at Ford in the early

Liliana Ramirez: I would say that the focus on culture and our employee experience I would say it’s probably one of the number one things that has changed.

So, 20 years ago in manufacturing, the word culture didn’t exist. Oh, at all. And so today it’s foundational to who we are and what we do specifically how we build, how we develop, and how we retain our workforce. And so that’s been a huge, huge shift. And we work on it day in and day out.

At the same time, I think. The technical piece of it. The automation has become a part of every aspect of work. We’re also a lot more conscious of the environment and our impact on future generations. We have entire teams that are dedicated to sustainability and recycling.

And that was something that wasn’t as prevalent

Cortney Piper: That is very true. Now, at the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council, we are thrilled, and I am also thrilled too, because I drive a Ford, to have Ford’s BlueOval City in West Tennessee. In an earlier episode of our podcast, we had the pleasure of speaking with Kel Kearns, the plant manager of BlueOval City, about Ford’s EV commitments and progress at the mega site.

But today, I wanted to speak with you and learn a little bit more about Ford’s ambitious approach to work. Tell us about BlueOval Learning and how you plan to fill 6,000 new jobs in the region.

There’s so much to tell, Cortney. There’s so much. BlueOval Learning is really about how we work within the existing education and workforce programs to integrate our workforce strategies.

Liliana Ramirez: And so I’ll talk a little bit about the elements, but I think what I’m excited to talk about probably more of is the details behind the elements because we’ve had some early wins. And so I’ll talk about the five key areas, which stem. K through 12 and higher education bringing advanced manufacturing to schools is the second element.

Experiential learning is the third element, incorporating higher education programs or advanced manufacturing into those higher education programs. And then our BlueOval City TCAT, and within each one of those elements, So much activity. And so if you think about STEM, we’re working with the state of Tennessee and the schools to implement industry-recognized certifications.

And again, you understand why the importance of that. Cause I’m an example of one of those certifications. We’re providing recommendations for career and technical education. Lean Six Sigma to me has been like a huge win. This is a certificate. That we applied for and it was approved.

And so as of September of this year, high schoolers are going to be able to get a certificate in Lean and Six Sigma. It’s unreal, to be honest with you.

Cortney Piper: Is that across the state?

Liliana Ramirez: Across the state.

Cortney Piper: Wow.

Liliana Ramirez: And so the schools are going to be able to integrate lean into their offerings. And so students are going to gain this valuable credential at no cost and from an employer, right from the industry, it’s super exciting because having our future employees with knowledge around lean manufacturing, that mindset of troubleshooting. Waste elimination will be such a differentiator. So super excited about that one. We’ve provided $100,000 to Heywood, Tipton, and Lauderdale for STEM support for purchasing of equipment and supplies for students. I think they’ve already purchased robotics kits and even bacteria-growing sets of chemistry equipment.

So they’re already it’s already in action. The 2nd element really in the continuation of bringing advanced manufacturing to local schools. So, beyond supplies. And support with the financial piece of it. Part of it also is working with the staff and the teachers and the faculty, the guidance counselors, and even parents. This is also really a passion of mine because 18 years ago, my mother was on her deathbed, and she’s asking me when I was going to get a real job. So, she never understood the love that I had for manufacturing. And how it’s no longer what she knew manufacturing to be. And so understanding what manufacturing is today and that it’s a viable career.

I was the main breadwinner for many, many years. And manufacturing was my career, the way that I was able to support my family. And so that becomes important that education. So we’re doing a lot of that, meeting with the parents, meeting with the teachers, with the counselors. They’re the greatest influencers to our future employees. And so we need to educate them on the manufacturing of today and that it’s a viable career. We’ve had great summer sessions with UTM to provide teacher training and mechatronics, and that continues in 2024. Actually, in the beginning, we brought superintendents to Dearborn. Oh, my God. It was it was magnificent. So we toured the Manufacturing Technology Development Center, which is all of the future technology for manufacturing. We took them to our training, our Technical Training Center and it was really eye-opening for them just to understand the technology that exists and where we’re heading. The fourth element really that that we’re working through, or the third one, I think is the experiential one, but that’s more of a future one. When we get the plant up and running and it’s stable we’ll be partnering with colleges and universities to set up just co-ops and internships. But that’s more of a future one. The other one is incorporating advanced manufacturing technology into programs of study. And so there’s a couple of wins here, too, that I’m excited about to share, which is the EVPT program, Electrical Vehicle Production Technician Program that we’ve been partnering with the TCAT on.

And this is available at the TCAT Memphis this fall in 2023. We’ve also been working with the University of Memphis, and we’ve developed a bachelor’s degree for frontline manufacturing supervisors, which, again, is huge. And the beauty of all of this is the action. That that we’re taking. It’s not just, so we’re walking the talk and that’s the exciting part about, and you can, you can tell I’m so excited. I have so much to tell you. And then the last one is the TCAT, the BlueOval City TCAT is a multi-million dollar investment by the state of Tennessee.

And. We are so grateful to the state. It’s created with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, and this is going to be the hub for our education resources, where we’re going to bring or do our orientation. We’ll do our training, whether it’s work simulation, whatever it may be. And so we’re super excited about BlueOval City TCAT.

So those are the elements of learning and the work that we’re doing. And had been doing really, we started this maybe two years ago. And there’s just so much action that’s been taken and super exciting.

Cortney Piper: This is amazing just the amount of traction in two years is incredible in and of itself.

But I also think Liliana, my family’s from the Detroit area, and everyone on my dad’s side of the family worked for the big three at some point in their lives. And especially my grandparents, I remember they went right out of high school and were working on an assembly line. And my dad and his brothers would work on an assembly line to make extra money in the summer.

And, I just think about those options are extraordinarily limited for young people right now to go directly from high school to a great paying manufacturing job at a great company like Ford if they are not taught additional skills along the way, even while in high school. And what I love about this is Ford is making those opportunities again, available to young people in high school with a lot of intentionality around skills and upskilling.

And, like you said, creating a pathway throughout your career in manufacturing. And I just think that is remarkable.

Liliana Ramirez: Yeah, it’s exciting. It’s exciting, to say the least.

Cortney Piper: What has your experience been like partnering with our TCAT systems, universities, and high schools? What has that been like?

Liliana Ramirez: The state has been just incredibly welcoming and, honestly, surprisingly flexible. Because when you think about the education system, normally, it’s challenging to make changes, but the flexibility that they’ve shown, it’s just amazing. Just like you mentioned, educators are excited about new programs that we can develop as we lay out these pathways to careers.

People, in general, are excited about the possibility to work at Ford and join our family. And so that that active interaction, we’ve met with over 30 school districts. So many counties throughout West Tennessee. We’ve attended eighth-grade expos. We’re talking to freshman and sophomore classes about careers in manufacturing and at the end of it all between Ford and BlueOval SK are suppliers.

We’re located at BlueOval City. We want the local communities around BlueOval City to benefit from the jobs and other opportunities that it’s going to create. So I’m so grateful as to how we have been welcomed and how they’ve been flexible in all of the actions that have been taken thus far.

There’s so much excitement from the community. And it just, I can’t thank the state of Tennessee enough to be honest with you.

Cortney Piper: Well, good, good. That’s what that’s what we love to hear. And what kinds of jobs are you all looking to fill in the future?

Liliana Ramirez: Oh, a smorgasbord of jobs. Production, engineering, human resources, information technology, supervisor roles, learning and development.

But, beyond the actual roles, we’re looking for a range of skills and experience to fill all of these roles. We are looking more at recruiting employees who are naturally curious, love to learn, have a passion for business and our customers. And so really nobody should count themselves out.

And that’s our messaging. As we’re working and working with the high schools and with the education system, with the communities, it’s like no one should count themselves out for a job at BlueOval City. And so there’s different qualities that we’re looking for. And it’s about those leadership behaviors. Those the taking initiative, those with personal integrity, understanding facts and data. And so it’s really about those skills. And so we’re looking at not only what we’re doing within the pipeline but also when you’re hired. We will train you within that wonderful TCAT that we’re building.

Cortney Piper: So what is next for you and BlueOval City?

Liliana Ramirez: So what’s next is the TCAT opening. So that’s due to open probably in May or June. And so with that, as I mentioned, we’ll have specific programming to help with the onboarding and the orientation. And we also want to continue to engage.

As I mentioned, the teachers and more chambers, more communities, more faculty, more parents. We want to be part of the fabric of the community so that we can continue to understand what those needs are. And, normally what we do is we do a PDCA. We plan, we do, we check, we adjust. So we’ve been in the planning phase, we’re getting ready to execute.

And so we’ll continue to evaluate our programs and improve them and adjust to ensure that we’re continuing to help as many people as possible to find their full potential at Ford BlueOval City.

Cortney Piper: Liliana Ramirez, Ford Motor Company, thanks for coming on the show. Tell our listeners where they can learn more about you and your work.

Liliana Ramirez: So you could probably follow me on LinkedIn or you can read more about my background actually in an article in the Memphis Business Journal that was published in March. And then to learn more about BlueOval City, you can go to blueovalcity.com or you can follow BlueOval City on Facebook or Twitter at Ford’s BlueOval City.

Cortney Piper: Thank you, Liliana.

Liliana Ramirez: Thanks so much, Cortney. Thanks for the invite. And hey, check the box – podcast. So, thank you for the opportunity.

Cortney Piper: Your first one ever.

Liliana Ramirez: First one ever. Thank you.

Cortney Piper: And that’s our show. Thanks for tuning into Energizing Tennessee. Powered by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and FirstBank. We’re glad to be your number-one podcast for news about Tennessee’s Advanced Energy Sector. If you like what you heard, please share it with others or leave a rating and review to catch the latest episodes.

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