Lissa Barron| Crain’s Custom Media
Instead of watching the base of skilled labor dwindle, proponents of a program created through collaboration of the UAW and Ford Motor Co. aim to help students find those skills.
The program, hosted at the UAW-Ford Technical Training Center in Lincoln Park, gives high school students five weeks of instruction and hands-on training in several skilled trades, as well as career counseling.
UAW Assistant Director Rocky DiIacovo says the program exposes students to up-to-date technology and current skilled trade career options, which he hopes they will consider when pursuing their education.
“All of you aren’t going to be able to go to a four-year degree program,” he told them at the program’s recent graduation ceremony. “Get into the skills. We don’t have enough of them around.”
Also in short supply, says DiIacovo, are programs like his, the only one of its kind he knows of.
“Hopefully it will snowball into something,” he said. “If we get other companies on board, we can get it going throughout the country.”
But DiIacovo acknowledges that cost might be a challenge for employers.
The TTC paid current and former journeymen $30 to $40 per hour to give the 10 students hands-on instruction including power tools, precision measurement, skilled trades math, basic auto care, electrical, wiring, welding, pipefitting, drywall repair and painting.
“We should have government subsidies for this kind of event,” said DiIacovo. “If we don’t teach our youth, we’re going to be further behind the 8 ball in receiving manufacturing jobs.”
Another challenge, says DiIacovo, is getting students interested in skilled-trades careers.
“You don’t see technical skills in high schools anymore,” he said.
Kevin Long, 18, one of the students taking part in the UAW-Ford TTC program, agreed with Dilacovo that the focus for students is on a degree, not on specific skills.
“It seems there’s more of a focus on going off to college and higher learning degrees than actual physical labor,” Long said. “Students see the industrial skills as something for dropouts.”
Long, who just graduated from Riverview Community High School, is pursuing an electrical engineering degree at Central Michigan University.
Another program participant, Robert Sarver, 16, plans to work in the skilled trades to fund his college education.
“So much of this I didn’t know about before,” said Sarver, who drove in daily from Ottawa Lake, more than 60 miles away. “It’s getting harder and harder to get a job, and these skills are so great to have,” he said. “They open up so many doors.”
The 10 students were recruited through the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance as part of the Workforce Investment Act Youth program.
“When they come into this program, 90 percent do not know what a mill or lathe is, how to weld, or what a plumber does,” said DiIacovo, who credits the TTC program, now in its second year, with changing the students’ lives.
He says four students who took part last summer are attending college.
“We sent the universities letters of referral outlining our program,” he said. “Some are studying engineering, and one compared welding with dentistry and decided to be a dentist.”
Three other program participants are attending community college for technical training.
“Hopefully upon graduation, they can get a job in a manufacturing-based company as an apprentice or skilled laborer,” he said. “We helped them make a determination on what they wanted to do because they are exposed to the trades now, so they know about this.”