Brewster's goal is to strengthen the connection to STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and use it as a springboard for other companies that need more engineers. GM employees, along with employees of other automakers and suppliers, mentor Detroit high school students in FIRST robotics. In March, Cristo Rey's team won a FIRST robotics competition against other teams from Detroit and its suburbs.
There aren't enough students leaving college with STEM degrees, Brewster said. "If your pipeline isn't big enough, you won't have enough on the other end."
The program with Cristo Rey, along with FIRST robotics, exposes students to engineering at an early age so they can take the right courses in college.
"We can't hire enough engineers right now," Nuno-Whelan said. "We have [employees] come over from Brazil, and while they're here, we say, 'Hey, do you want to just localize?' We spend the money to localize them just because they know what we're doing already."
When the current Cristo Rey senior GM interns start college and establish a GPA after their first year, there will be a solid bench of job prospects, he said.
Working with Cristo Rey started as just a good thing to do in the community, said Brewster, but "it really has become something within the company."
"For me, success is when we move to more of an institutionalized [program]. It becomes an intertwined part of an HR, recruiting, talent development program," he said.
Ideally, he would like to see GM offices in other states partner with their local Cristo Rey schools.
Most companies think of the students in teams of four. They pay each team $30,000 per year, or $7,500 per student. The jobs program covers about 53 percent of Detroit Cristo Rey's expenses, mostly salaries. The remainder of the school's funding comes from fundraisers, foundations and individual donors. Each student also pays tuition of $600 on average per year, and the administration works with families on payment plans. No one has ever been kicked out for not paying, Khoury said.
The families' income must sit below about $15,000 per person in the household for students to enroll at Cristo Rey. The average income for the incoming freshman class is $34,000 per household, the highest it's ever been, Khoury said.
Because the jobs program is part of the curriculum, the students believe they belong in the room, even with top-level executives.
"Our kids are incredibly optimistic about what their future is," Khoury said.
"And if you think you've got a bright future, then you're willing to do things to make it happen."
From Brewster's experience, local recruitment leads to better employee retention. The program is part of GM's commitment to Detroit.
"Detroit is a city that we are trying to turn around as a community," he said. "Part of that turnaround has to be giving hope to the people that live in the city that there are careers outside of what they have done."