Generations of skilled tradespeople built the Motor City, put the world on wheels, and created the American middle class. In recent decades though, interest in skilled trades careers has diminished among youth and young adults nationwide along with vocational education options.
Investment has returned to Detroit and skilled trades jobs are in high demand. But, more than half of Detroit’s youth and adults are unemployed and outside the workforce, while the Detroit Free Press reports redevelopment projects are hindered by a shortage of skilled trades workers.
Leaders at the Detroit-based DTE Energy saw these challenges unfolding. DTE, Michigan’s largest energy company, is also experiencing a workforce changeover with 50 percent of its 10,000 employees eligible to retire over the next five years. So the company joined public and private partners including the Detroit Mayor’s Workforce Development Board and the Detroit Public Schools Community District to tackle the related challenges of unfilled skilled trades jobs and gaps in education and training. At DTE, the focus is on helping revive Detroit’s trade schools, placing high school students in paid summer work experiences and launching a skilled trades program at Henry Ford College in nearby Dearborn.
In 2016 the Randolph Career Technical Center, a city high school, had only 100 students. Closure was looming. “The building was in rough shape, equipment was outdated and there was inadequate funding,” said David Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative oﬃcer of DTE Energy. “In carpentry classes, students built projects then disassembled them because there wasn’t money for new nails and wood. We saw the potential of the students. We met dedicated instructors and staff. It was clear Randolph was worth saving.”
The DTE Energy Foundation provided $500,000 to refurbish Randolph and relaunch its skilled trades curriculum. The seed funding spurred community partner contributions totaling $10 million. Enrollment at Randolph tripled in 2017 to more than 300 students and is increasing again this fall.
Ronald Wood recently graduated from Randolph, earning certificates in Masonry and Marketing & Entrepreneurship. “After the renovations, it was a much more comfortable and better work environment,” said Wood. “We need a lot of young talent to work in the trades, and Randolph is key to making that happen.” Wood was among 14 Randolph students participating in paid internships at DTE this summer.
Roger Bonds graduated from Randolph in Computer Aided Drafting and Design. “Randolph is very important for those looking to start a career right away,” he said. “I am very grateful for such a great opportunity.”
Building on the Randolph success, DTE joined a similar effort a few miles away at the Breithaupt Career Technical Center. The DTE Energy Foundation provided $500,000 to help update Breithaupt with workplace-modeled classrooms. Painting, flooring, and lighting work followed. DTE is also providing full-time construction and curriculum project management at Breithaupt. DTE volunteers have helped with demolition, construction and landscaping. DTE is donating equipment and supplies to create an industry-recognized instruction and learning environment.
DTE strengthened the training pipeline through $600,000 from the DTE Energy Foundation to establish the Henry Ford College Power and Trades Pathways Program. The first students in the program started classes and training a year ago and 12 are pursuing energy careers or additional studies.
DuJuan Stewart is entering his senior year at Randolph’s HVAC program. “The teachers push you to do your best. Randolph is important among Detroit schools because the trades they teach are in high demand. I want to get my HVAC certificate, go to Henry Ford College and become an overhead line worker at DTE.”
“There are more career opportunities available to Detroiters than there have been in decades, so it’s important to ensure the next generation has the skills they need to get good quality jobs,” said Meador, who also co-chairs the Mayor’s Workforce Development Board. “We are honored to help bring new life to Breithaupt through private and public partnerships, as we did for Randolph.”
Skilled Trades Programs offered at Detroit’s Randolph Career Technical Center:
- Computer-Aided Design
- Plumbing and Pipefitting
A version of this article is published on the Points of Light Blog. After being named one of the top 50 companies nationally in corporate citizenship – the only Michigan company to receive this honor – Points of Light asked DTE to share more on what the company has done to increase skilled trades training in Detroit.