Workforce development is critical to our future. My company is trying to help.

By Akio Toyoda, Dallas Morning News

America holds a special place in my heart. Ever since my first trip to Alabama as a child, I was hooked on the American dream and the idea of mobility for all. I studied at Babson College in Massachusetts, then worked at a New York investment bank, followed by a stint at New United Motor Manufacturing in California. In a way, I was nurtured by America, and all the wonderful people I met along the way.

Today, in the U.S., Toyota has 10 plants in 10 states and employs nearly 245,000 people, including dealerships and suppliers, and our success is due to our people. That’s why it’s important for us to work with communities to strengthen the future workforce. To me, education is the great equalizer. It can create life-changing opportunities or serve as a social and economic divide when not evenly distributed.

Over the past 65 years, Toyota has invested $33.6 billion in America. We have announced investments totaling $5.1 billion into our manufacturing operations, including a battery plant in North Carolina — our 11th U.S. plant. Globally, as part of our efforts to go all-in on electric vehicles, we plan to build 70 electrified models by 2025.

In the business community, there is a growing concern about being able to meet the challenges of tomorrow without furthering STEM education opportunities.

The rapid pace of innovation requires a collective effort to create pathways to high-tech, high-growth jobs of the future. From self-driving cars and electric vehicles, to artificial intelligence and machine learning, the world of the future will be different than today, requiring a different education system.

This issue affects not just Toyota, but all automakers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 860,000 manufacturing job openings in the U.S. in January, compared with 519,000 a year earlier. The number of unfilled manufacturing jobs could reach 2.1 million by 2030, according to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.

My grandfather, Kiichiro, who founded Toyota Motor Corporation, also felt strongly about the importance of a good education and training. In 1938, Toyota set up a technical school and began working to develop talent, as well as cars. This philosophy continues today.

Since 1991, we have supported family literacy programs, and provided assistance for STEM education. In West Dallas, Toyota created a PreK-8 science and technology education program with local educators, nonprofits and social-service organizations. Our partners are the Dallas Independent School District, Southern Methodist University and the broader West Dallas community.

This STEM school provides new literacy, reading and writing programs, and even goes beyond the classroom. Our partners coordinate social services needed by students and families, with after-school programs, mentoring, a community center and food pantry.

We will expand this type of involvement to 15 communities where we have operations, from Long Beach, California to Buffalo, West Virginia. This program, called Driving Possibilities, represents a $110 million commitment by Toyota Motor North America and Toyota Financial Services, and is designed to reach 10,800 students and their families annually. Working with communities, non-profits, schools, governments, and others, the program will serve as a roadmap for creating talent by eliminating educational disparities to help students grow and succeed. It’s also designed to address basic needs that impact learning such as mobility, food insecurity, and after-school programming.

And this isn’t our first investment in skills education. Years ago, Toyota founded the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME). Twelve states operate a FAME chapter where community college students seeking careers in manufacturing receive paid training while attending school. Enrollees earn associate degrees and certification as advanced manufacturing technicians (AMTs), while working part time in manufacturing facilities and being paid competitively by one of the 400 participating employers. When they graduate, they’re job ready. About 85% of AMTs who complete the program go on to work for their sponsoring employer.

That’s why I’m excited about Toyota’s Driving Possibilities. For thousands of students, this program can be their ticket to a high-growth career. We also hope it inspires other companies, research institutions and communities. Everyone will benefit by making education count and help create the workforce of tomorrow.

Toyota’s U.S.-Japan partnership has flourished thanks to the shared values and mutual respect forged by the people of both countries at all levels. At its heart lies education and developing people. And as a company that calls both America and Japan home, Toyota will continue working to support students and all citizens of these great countries to help ensure we can, and will, provide mobility and happiness for all.

Akio Toyoda is president of Toyota Motor Corporation. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.