I had spent half of each 12th-grade school day in that plant, working as a girl Friday for what was then Chevrolet Metal Fabricating.
That was 1968, and the pay was sweet: $3.10 an hour, nearly $2 more than the average high-school co-op student earned.
Today, Metal Fab's trainees still get the best co-op pay in town - $6.25 an hour - but the student profile is much different. Instead of focusing on prospective white-collar workers, Metal Fab is training what could be its future hourly work force.
'We always valued the potential salaried worker,' says plant personnel director Gerald Butler. 'All we've done here is apply the principle to people not interested in salaried work.'
The need for more skilled workers, minorities and women has led GM and Ford Motor Co. to implement pre-training programs at the high school level.
Chrysler also has a remedial training program, but it basically enlists current workers under a program run by the UAW.
Each of the programs is designed to bring current or prospective workers up to speed so they'll be prepared for the so-called 'New Economy' that will require much higher technical skills by 2000.
Susan Richvalsky, project director for the Manufacturing Technology Partnership Program in Flint, says that by 2005, only 21 percent of the available jobs will require a college degree; the rest will require technical knowledge or training in a particular skill.
Richvalsky says the GM program is an inexpensive and effective way to train. It costs GM $6.25 an hour to train high school students but nearly $20 an hour to train current workers.
Although the company doesn't guarantee there will be jobs, Richvalsky says the programs are driving students in the right direction. 'We do not want to train students for jobs that may not be there,' she says. 'These programs are based upon future workplace needs.'
The GM/UAW program is open to students in the 11th and 12th grades and focuses on reading, writing, algebra and physics. Students also spend two hours paid training each day at the plant learning machining, electronics and fundamentals of automation.
Students who do not want to go into GM's skilled trades apprenticeship program receive a two-year scholarship to one of the partner community colleges.
Ford's Academy of Manufacturing Sciences also works with 11th and 12th graders. The program operates in nine states and concentrates on the technical side of the business with an emphasis on engineering and skilled trades.
The program offers four full-semester courses: manufacturing systems and organizations; quality improvement through basic statistics; use of electronics and technology in the workplace; and problem solving in manufacturing organizations.
This is a seven-week program aimed at all semi-skilled and non-skilled UAW members, even those not affiliated with the Big*3. The program focuses on math, reading, and mechanical reasoning.
John Morris, an international skilled-trade representative for the UAW, says the union hopes to get a grant from the federal government to expand its program.
'The high school programs are good, but we need to do more to educate current workers,' Morris says.