Detroit is the latest market to benefit from a Ford Motor Co.-sponsored program that trains unemployed inner-city residents as technicians in dealerships.
The company said last month 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 industrywide technician shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 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 dealerships rarely consider scouring welfare rolls for help because hiring these candidates involves more risk. Many are high school dropouts; some have done jail time. Ford's program 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," 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.