Amazon said Detroit lacked enough talent. What is being done to address that?

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Amazon’s numbers from Detroit’s view are attractive.  A five billion dollar investment. Fifty-thousand high-paying jobs.  However, Amazon says when it looked at Detroit the numbers didn’t add up, that the city simply didn’t have number of skilled workers needed. 

“We are really looking at a huge shortage in skilled workers right now,” said Larry Brinker, Jr., the  president of the construction management business his father founded, Brinker Group. 

Brinker Group is literally rebuilding Detroit. You’ll see the company’s work at Ford Field, Comerica Park, Metro-Airport, Little Caesars Arena, and at the new Pistons Headquarters. He says when the economy collapsed in 2007 thousands of skilled workers left metro-Detroit.  Now the economy has improved and he’s dealing with a gap. The question is how do you fill that gap? 

“We roll up our sleeves and dive right into understanding, what kind of jobs are you trying to fill? What skills do Detroiters need?” said Nicole Sherard-Freeman, President & CEO of Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation. 

The Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation says with, it is working with employers to solve this problem for companies. For example right now it is providing training to prepare Detroiters for positions at Flex N Gate when the company opens a new plant on the city’s eastside in months.  It is expected to employ about 400 workers. 
“Training is now free for those who have an income of $50k or less,” said Sherard-Freeman.

The classes available target both high school students and adults, offering training in construction, IT, software development, manufacturing, health care, and more. 

“We will meet you where you are and get you the training that you need,” she said. 

But how do you prepare for jobs that aren’t even here yet?  State officials say work being done at Washtenaw Community College is a prime example. 

“Our community college did what it is supposed to do,” said Brandon Tucker, Dean of the Advanced Manufacturing & Public Service Careers at Washtenaw Community College. 

Tucker says the college partnered with industry leaders to learn about jobs that would be coming.  They then created an auto service technology program that aims to prepare students to be leaders as smart car technology expands. 

“All of this blends the IT, automotive, and manufacturing. And those three pillars are how we are looking at industries needs,” said Alan Lecz, Director of the Advanced Transportation Center at WCC. 

“To know that I am coming out of college and starting a career right away, is just the most unbelievable feeling in the world,” said Emily Hatsigeorgio, a student in the program. 

 Hatsigeorgio will graduate from the WCC automotive tech program in May and GM already has hired her for a position that starts in June. She will be setting up crash simulations. 

“It is a wonderful experience to be involved in that, because at the end of the day we are saving people’s lives,” said Hatsigeorgio. 

“The capabilities, they are there. They just need access to the proper training and resources,” said Brinker. 

Larry Brinker says his construction company is committed to staying in Detroit, because of the potential here. He found it rewarding to set up a program called 3-D with the help of the Construction Association of Michigan.  It is helping high school students get skills needed in construction.  It is changing lives. He says he believes the skill gap is temporary and being a part of the solution will have amazing payoffs. 

“Amazon was 100% wrong,” said Brinker. 

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