Chrysler, on the rebound, casts wider net for interns, graduates

At the end of 2013, Chrysler's payrolls stood at 73,712, up from 48,237 in June 2009 when it exited bankruptcy.
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized why Maya McWhorter, a Howard University student, was interested in an internship in the auto industry, and particularly at Chrysler Group.

DETROIT -- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is going outside the Midwest to attract young talent and enhance the company’s reputation among college students and graduates worried about job security at a domestic automaker.

As part of its summer internship program, Chrysler has recruited 502 students from 127 universities across the country to work across all company operations and locations -- the most in the program’s 19-year history.

Denise Debouvre, Chrysler’s university relations manager, said the company struggled with recruiting after its high-profile bankruptcy in 2009.

“We had challenges trying to get people to come here to Michigan,” Debouvre said. “Now we have people so excited in long lines … at a career booth, an info session or a Chrysler day on campus.”

At the end of 2013, Chrysler’s payrolls stood at 73,712, up from 48,237 in June 2009 when it exited bankruptcy.

Revenues and profits have rebounded since the 2008-09 downturn, and the company is targeting global sales of 7 million vehicles by 2018, compared with the 4.5 million to 4.6 million vehicles Fiat and Chrysler plan to sell in 2014.

Internships, job offers

Since 2009, Chrysler has hired 199 students from the intern program. In the 2013 intern class, 235 graduated from college, half received Chrysler job offers and 83 accepted them.

The company focuses recruiting efforts at 24 core universities in addition to diversity conferences.

Students participating in the intern program range from auto enthusiasts to business management majors looking to develop general corporate skills.

Alejandro Diaz, a mechanical engineering student at Florida International University, said he has always wanted to work with cars, but his hometown of Miami had few opportunities to do so.

“I love cars,” Diaz said. “… Miami, Florida, is a big city, like New York, L.A., Chicago, Detroit, but basically nonexistent in the automotive industry. Being a U.S. citizen and working for the Big 3 is always the dream.”

Kenny Jackson, a health management student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., is in his second year interning at Chrysler. He said students in his major usually go into government or public health fields, but working in Chrysler’s human resources department has given him a new perspective and potential career option.

Because of the small number of students specializing in the field and competition with tech firms, students with supply chain management skills have become a Chrysler priority.

The company this year launched Leadership Exchange and Internship Program, a partnership with the supply chain management departments at Howard University and Arizona State University.

LEIP recruits two students from each university to intern at Chrysler’s supply chain management division for the summer. Students then spend one semester at the other university’s campus the following year.

“Supply chain has emerged as a key strategic discipline in the last few years because of what we’ve been through,” said Eric Williams, associate director of the Center for Excellence in Supply Chain Management at Howard University School of Business. “The companies that do a really good job of partnering with a small number of universities and going deep with them are doing better at attracting talent.”

Maya McWhorter, a Howard University student participating in LEIP, said she was drawn to Chrysler because of the company's corporate culture. She was also attracted to the automotive industry, which she described as unique compared to the top financial and accounting firms she initially saw on campus.

She and other students in the program said they saw working at Chrysler as a way to apply supply chain management to an industry completely new to them.

“When you go to Arizona and you go out East and when you talk about the auto industry, all they hear is the bad news,” said Paul Signorello, Chrysler’s director of market representation. “There are so many opportunities to grow your career, but it’s not visible to the students.”

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