Vernor Jacobs, 19, of Detroit, a student at Henry Ford College, in the classroom this fall.

Textbooks now; a career (and maybe some shoes) later

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Sitting in class at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Dy’Ante Murphy opened a text book — filled with industrial and residential blue prints — and turned to a person next to him.

“This book cost more than any pair of shoes I’ve ever bought,” he said with a laugh and shake of the head. “Two-hundred and thirty dollars right here. It’s a lot of blue prints.”

Ideally, though, those books will lead to a long, stable and financially-beneficial career in the energy industry.

In other words, many more pairs of shoes.

Murphy is part of the first cohort to attend Henry Ford College’s Power and Trades Pathways, a stackable credential program that aims to put students on the path to a career in skilled trades, specifically in the energy industry.

In the program, the students spend the first two semesters learning basics, topics such as industrial safety, hand-tool use and how to read blueprints. From there, based on the interest of the students, they can choose one of six specific trades to pursue, including gas operations, electric operations, construction and substation operations.

The stackable credential program is focused on the foundational and technical skills within skilled trades so the student can transfer or earn multiple certifications — and allow the students to more easily pursue what the market demands.

The aim is that when the students complete the program, funded through Federal Student Aid and a grant from the Department of Labor called ApprenticeshipUSA, they will have all the credentials, certifications and testing needed to begin an apprenticeship in the energy industry.

Deborah Majeski, manager at DTE Energy’s Center of Excellence who is helping to lead installment of the program, said there is a need for skilled workers throughout the state and at DTE, which prompted the creation of the program. For instance, she said, nearly half of DTE’s current employees will be eligible to retire in the next five to 10 years.

“We know the key to a strong and vibrant Michigan is good jobs,” she said. “And quality education is essential to a good job — they are part and parcel.”

Michigan is home to nearly 100,000 energy-related jobs. And during the next six years, that number is expected to grow by more than 9 percent.

At Henry Ford College, the first cohort  of the Power and Trades Pathways program, is made up of students from Cody High School in Detroit. Most of them entered the program after working at DTE for the summer in the company’s new Summer Youth Program, which provides skilled trades experiences for the students.

New students will join as at least one new cohort of students start in 2018.

Vernor Jacobs, 19, of Detroit, is one of the 17 students enrolled now, and he’s finding the program very beneficial. While undecided on what specialty he will pursue, Jacobs said the courses are changing his every day perspective.

“I’m learning things I never knew,” he said. “There are new ideas and more knowledge.”

For instance, he said that while walking around a building, he recognizes and appreciates things he would have ignored previously.

“I walk up to a wall and I can say, ‘oh, this is such-and-such drywall,’” he said. “I can notice different cements and those sorts of things I didn’t notice before.”

Asia Harris, 18, said the program is teaching her new skills — and she’s getting enjoyment from that process.

“I consider learning about things I don’t know about very fun,” she said. “I get to learn and develop my mind.”

Harris, too, said she hasn’t decided on what skilled trade she will pursue. But, like Jacobs, she said the courses she is taking are changing the way she looks at the world. For instance, she recently completed a unit in a course about industrial safety.

“After taking that class, I was noticing more errors and safety concerns,” she said. “I’d see things and say, ‘well, that isn’t right.’”

For Majeski, the program is another important piece of the pipeline DTE is creating to develop and educate the next generation of employees for the energy industry. At the same time, she sees the program as something bigger than simply the company she works for.

“This goes beyond the walls of DTE Energy, both literally and figurately,” she said. “This is part of our company’s passionate focus to be a force of growth and a force for good in the communities where we live and serve.

“We see ourselves and the private sector as playing an essential role in pushing Michigan forward,” she said. “And building a base of talented, skilled workers is important to carrying that momentum forward.”