Opportunity Knocks for Students in NTC School to Work Initiative

Jul 13, 2017

Story by Meghan McBrady
Page Design by Jonathan Powell
NTC Communications

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Justin Anderson (left) and Charles Gray work on birdhouse with Burton “Buck” Juengel.

Lively chatter among students rose above the thwack-thwack of metal meeting wood and the din of scrapping sandpaper and whirring saws in the apprentice lab at the UAW-Chrysler World Class Manufacturing Academy (WCMA).

Arms crossed and head tilted, Justin Anderson watched as Charles Gray painstakingly lined up each nail while working on his birdhouse under the watchful eye of skilled trades instructor Burton “Buck” Juengel.

Both students took obvious pride in building their birdhouses, the final project of a memorable 2016-2017 school year. They learned a lot about themselves and career opportunities in manufacturing and skilled trades open to those who are motivated and prepared to succeed.

The Mission

The UAW-Chrysler National Training Center School To Work Program is a 2 year program, which provides 11th and 12th grade students with the knowledge and basic skill to prepare them for career skills in automotive and manufacturing industry, including
* Fundamental workplace skills
* General understanding of manufacturing systems and processes
* Technical knowledge and practical application of manufacturing technology




“Being here is a good feel,” Justin said of his experience in the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center (NTC) School to Work Program. “I’m just happy that I’m going to be back next year to spend more hands-on time in the shop.

“This program has given me life skills for the real world. It’s taught me to keep my eyes open to the opportunities out there besides being a professional football or basketball player.”

Justin and Charles are among 13 neighborhood kids who stepped out of their comfort zones to complete the first year of a two-year program launched last September. It provides hands-on, individualized work readiness training in a supportive corporate and lab setting.

The program is believed to be unique in the nation because of its comprehensive scope, made possible by involvement and support between the UAW, FCA US LLC, the NTC, Hazel Park Schools and the Hazel Park Promise Zone. It was instrumental in fostering the collaboration between the Hazel Park Schools and the National Training Center.

Juniors from Hazel Park (Mich.) High School and Hazel Park Alternative School volunteered to participate in School to Work as an elective. They attended class for 2 ½ hours each afternoon at WCMA in neighboring Warren, Mich., after spending the morning at their home schools.

They received grades and earned academic credit for their work, as well as an opportunity to earn performance-based educational grants.

“The idea behind the whole program is that we are looking for the students who may fall through the cracks, as college may not work for them or they may not have that opportunity,” said Shawn Fain, Assistant Director of the UAW’s Chrysler Department.

“I’ve been involved with the union for 23 years and of anything I’ve ever worked on, this program is, by far, the biggest thing to have an impact. You’ll see a result that will really make a person’s life better.”

         Shawn Fain and Stacie Seward with students.

That’s precisely the vision of UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, Director of the union’s Chrysler Department. He’s the driving force behind School to Work, an initiative supported by about a dozen NTC and WCMA staff members who teach classes and mentor the kids.

The program also is strongly endorsed by Glenn Shagena, Vice President-Head of Employee Relations, FCA – North America, because of its positive impact on the community as well as the students.

LIFE SKILLS: Nurturing Environment Pays Off

The students’ junior year in School to Work was as much about learning basic life skills as becoming an electrician or sheet metal worker in the automotive industry one day.

Classes taught by lead instructors Stacie Steward and Jessica Scott covered topics ranging from healthy lifestyles, effective communication and writing resumes to decision-making, conflict resolution and teamwork.

Kids also learned about the heritage of the UAW and the labor movement, along with the history of FCA US LLC.

Regardless of the subject, the atmosphere was close-knit and nurturing, built on a foundation of trust, mutual respect and working together.

UAW STW Program 2017

“Respect is everything,” Justin said. “Teamwork is another step towards respect that your team has to build towards.”

Instructors helped students overcome attendance, academic or other school-related problems, but also became a trusted resource for students as life challenges arose.

The instructors’ empathy paid off for Deshon Moore, who initially was anxious about adapting to this unconventional elective course.

“My first time, it was kind of nervous and I was shy,” he said. “As like more weeks went along, I was getting more out of my shell and became more of a greater person. I’m still working at becoming better.”

Caitlin Hilliard had a similar experience. She struggled with school and had to “work harder” than the rest of the class to keep up. But after her first year of School to Work, she considers college to be an option thanks to improved self-esteem.

“I thought [college] was, like, doing a lot,” Caitlin said. “If I went to a regular college I’d probably fail. The college I’m going to is like a trades school – it’s going to basically be like [WCMA]. I feel really good about that.”

Chris “Mr. B” Benedetto, Hazel Park High wood shop teacher and School to Work instructor, attributes such success stories to higher expectations than students are used to and access to greater resources at a state-of-the-art training facility like WCMA.

         Norwood Jewell (left) and Glenn Shagena.

“The partnership has been great for these kids, compared to students I have had in the past,” Benedetto said. “Their attitudes have changed tremendously. They value education now more for its intrinsic value, rather than fear of punishment as they see how this will benefit their lives going forward.”

JOB SKILLS: Preparing for the Shop Floor

Building birdhouses in the apprentice lab gave the kids a taste of what their senior year will be like when they begin to apply what they’ve already learned about manufacturing processes and technology.

Beginning in September, they will learn more skilled-trade jobs and specific skills required to become a journeyman. They also will study mechanical theory and applications.

Marcus White can’t wait. One of the reasons he joined the program was his interest in engineering. “I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life post high school,” he said. “So I took this opportunity to learn trades. I saw what Chrysler-UAW [UAW-Chrysler National Training Center] was doing and I jumped at it.”

As a result of his School to Work experience, Marcus’ interest in welding and woodwork has grown, and he’s eager to learn more.

Thomas Emmons also looks forward to next semester.

“I think the biggest thing that offsets this from our school, in general, is the hands-on activities that we do,” he said. “From public speaking to being out here in the work area after learning so much, we were actually able to get out of our seats and do a project instead of sitting in a classroom environment.”

So it was earlier this month when the kids took a field trip to the Chelsea (Mich.) Proving Grounds, perhaps their most eye-opening and mind-expanding experience of the school year.

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                        Students and staff at Chelsea Proving Grounds.

Students were immersed in a complex engineering and technical world required to help ensure that FCA US vehicles meet government and industry safety, emissions, fuel economy, performance and durability standards.

Their tour of the facility – equal to the size of 4.000 football fields – included witnessing a crash test, riding around the high-speed oval test track and traversing a challenging off-road course in a Jeep. (The photo above this story shows students in the crash-test dummy lab.)

The proving grounds visit was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, exposing students to an exciting, hi-tech world of work unlike any they could have imagined back home in Hazel Park. It also provided the students with a very different perspective of what type of work is performed at FCA US LLC other than the typical assembly process.

FINAL GRADE: Year One a “Win-Win”

Capping School to Work’s first year, the National Training Center hosted a luncheon on June 6 to celebrate the students’ hard work, dedication and accomplishments.

“To have an opportunity to open our doors here and have you guys come in and build these experiences is really cool for us,” Jewell told the kids. “You always hear the term ‘win-win;’ well this is one of those win-wins.”

Shagena said he and Jewell have monitored students’ progress throughout the school year, and that “good things happen to good people” and they “have a place here.

“You have all given us inspiration to think about how we can cast a wider net to some of the folks your age in this city,” he said. “You have given us a lot to think about.”

Jewell and Shagena also had another surprise for the School to Work kids. Just as they did before at Christmas, they presented each student with an educational grant to assist them as they continue to make improvements in their lives, in-and-out of the program.

Everyone was optimistic about the future of School to Work. Building on its successful first year, at least 16 new Hazel Park high school juniors will join the program this fall. Further down the road, good jobs in the trades await School to Work graduates who “get their foot in the door,” Jewell said.

“Build a resume,” he said. “We need good young people that want to come to work.”

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