CANTON, MISS. Nissan gets choosy in new-plant hiring

The plant attracted 61,000 applicants for 4,000 positions.
CANTON, Miss. (AP) -- All things being equal, the odds of Eric Gilkey landing a job at Nissan's sprawling new assembly plant are a slim 1-in-15.
That's no knock against Gilkey, a 36-year-old state employee. It's just that Gilkey must compete with the 61,000 others who have applied for one of 4,000 well-paying positions the plant must fill by the end of the year.
Nissan North America will open the first phase of its $1.5 billion assembly plant in May. The plant will make Nissan's new full-sized Titan pickup, Quest minivans and new full-sized Nissan and Infinity sport-utility vehicles.
The Canton plant will be Mississippi's first auto plant, and excitement is high among applicants such as Gilkey angling for jobs with starting wages between $13.25 and $18.50 an hour.
"I want to be a part of Nissan and be a part of building the cars from the ground up," Gilkey said.
The Nissan way
But Nissan is being very choosy, especially for the first batch of workers who are now testing the assembly line and helping to train new hires. Nissan prefers assembly line workers have 18 months of factory or industrial experience, and maintenance technicians have three to five years industrial experience.
"Toyota is more focused on hiring people they can teach to do things their way," said Michael Flynn, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Student of Automotive Transportation.
Nissan has hired and trained more than 1,000 employees for its Canton plant, and will add up to 200 a month through December, said Galen Medlin, the plant's human resources director. By next fall, when the plant adds an Altima sedan assembly line, nearly 5,300 people will work there.
"We can be very selective because of our pay and benefits," Medlin said. "Most of the people we hired are coming from another job or have been recently been laid off, so we're able to get some of the better folks in."
Since last August, Nissan has held more than 30 job fairs statewide. But while it has hired workers from almost all 82 counties, 70 percent of applicants live within a 70-mile radius of the plant's Madison County site.
Nissan's requirement that applicants for assembly line jobs complete six weeks of pre-employment training at a facility near the plant -- with no guarantee of being hired -- has discouraged some candidates who don't live nearby.
"In the Delta, there's some reluctance from people who said, 'I don't really want to go down to Canton,"' Medlin said. "But there's a lot of people that are desperate for a stable job."
Last year, the state lost a record number of manufacturers: 103 closed their doors taking 10,238 jobs with them.
The state, as part of a $695 million incentive package to Nissan, is paying $23.5 million for its worker training.

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