``Motown'' is the latest market to benefit from a Ford Motor Co.-sponsored program that trains unemployed inner-city residents as technicians in auto dealerships.
The company recently announced it will spend $1.5 million to open three training centers in the Detroit area, bringing the number of such centers around the country to 16.
Ford has spent nearly $8 million over the past three years working with charities and government agencies in nine urban areas to establish centers that pluck promising technician candidates from the unemployment line.
``Basic, raw talent-that's all we need-that, and a willingness to learn,''' said Duane Roundtree, strategy manager for the youth and adult automotive training program of Ford Customer Service Division.
Automotive shops have to be creative as they recruit mechanics because of an industry-wide technician shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that since 1989, more than 15,000 trained technicians have been retiring annually, which has contributed to a shortage of 60,000 trained automotive technicians.
But car dealerships-like many independent repair shops-rarely consider scouring welfare rolls for help because hiring these candidates involves more risk. Many are high school dropouts; some have done jail time.
A program Ford operates in Florida trains women incarcerated at a Dade County prison.
``Typically the students we reach and recruit are 20 years old. A third of the students do not have a high school diploma,'' Mr. Roundtree said.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. has a similar program in Los Angeles, and Jaguar Cars North America has established a training center for inner-city youths in Newark, N.J.
How it works
Ford spends an average of $500,000 to open each center, including providing three to five new vehicles for training.
Much of the tuition is covered by government welfare-to-work programs, though some students get assistance from Ford and its dealers. The required tool sets cost $300 to $1,000. Tuition for a year of automotive training is $3,500.
Ford relies on unemployment offices to find and screen candidates. Charities also refer candidates. In Chicago, for example, Ford works with a consortium of Baptist ministers.
Each center enrolls about 15 students at a time in the one-year training program. Usually the program operates out of a community college, though the first training center in Newark was constructed in 1999 at a cost of $1.7 million.
Prospective students face a battery of tests, including hand-eye coordination, color blindness, reading and mathematics. If students require remedial education, they get it through Ford's partnerships with community colleges.
The students go to school five days a week, spending half the time in the classroom and the other half in a paid co-op work program through a car dealer. They receive training not only in maintenance and light repair but in how to get along with others in the workplace.
``Life skills are the key to turning their lives around,'' Mr. Roundtree said. ``Most people have academic skills, but they need to interact with others and handle disagreements.''
Tom Hawkes, owner of Hawk Lincoln-Mercury in Oaklawn, Ill., helped train a 26-year-old Chicago student who graduated and is continuing his education.
``This kid is tremendous,'' Mr. Hawkes said. ``He will be like any of the other well-trained apprentices from any of the other schools.''
Technicians who graduate from Ford's program are required to have a high school diploma or pass an equivalency test. They also must pass a Ford certification exam.
Graduates receive college credits and a Ford maintenance and light-repair certificate equal to 20 percent of the credentials needed for master technician certification.
Ford and some participating dealers offer scholarships to graduates who want to continue their education and obtain two- or four-year degrees in automotive technology.
According to Mr. Roundtree, the program has 100 percent job placement, and once hired, 80 percent of the graduates are still on the job after the first year.