Stellantis gives $4M to expand Detroit school manufacturing program

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A $4 million investment in Detroit's Southeastern High School will continue to transform the historic school into an advanced manufacturing career academy for students and adults over the next two years.

On Wednesday, Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Stellantis NV director Christine Estereicher met online to share completed details of phase one of the investment, which is part of a collaboration with the auto manufacturer and Detroit At Work, a free job training program.

Students Xzavier Funderburk, Dwayne Hailey, and Angel McDaniel-Richmond use STEM lab computers in the renovated advanced manufacturing classroom at Southeastern High School.

As a part of its community benefits agreement, Stellantis is committing $4 million to fund manufacturing career academy programs at Southeastern High School and career technical education for students and adults in advanced manufacturing.

District officials said more than 200 9th grade students have enrolled in the program.

The academy at Southeastern High School, which sits next to the automaker's Jefferson North Assembly Plant, was launched in the fall with revamped classrooms, giving students exposure to experts in the field and a career pathway.

This school year, students received technology support and access to a new online course, Introduction to Advanced Manufacturing. Three classrooms were fully renovated with upgrades such as installation of the required electrical drops and workbenches to support the IT networking course.

An advanced manufacturing lab, an information technology classroom and a work room were fully furnished with new hardware as well as equipment from the Golightly CTE campus to support a return to in-person learning.

The newly designed space is outfitted to accommodate 30 to 35 students in-person per room for the 9th grade program. The manufacturing space is also equipped with software programs to provide accessible online learning for the students.

Stellantis also provided students with guest speakers related to the field.

On Wednesday, Vitti said the district has worked to strengthen its high school programs and to embed career training into high schools. Typically, district students take a bus to career technical centers for training.

"Our role is to make our students work-ready or college-ready or also life ready. High school has to be a springboard to college or the world of work," Vitti said. "To do that you have to offer dynamic programming, programming that is relevant to students so they can see what they can become, what they might be interested in. It takes partnerships to do that."

Vitti said his vision is for the Southeastern program to increase enrollment at the school on the city's east side and to accelerate the springboard process into work and college for students.

"As we move forward, students will be able to take classes in welding, machinery, robotics. Not only will they be able to go to the plant and see the work but they can take classes linked to that. More field experiences. More internship opportunities," Vitti said.

The pandemic has put a wrench into building out the program, Vitti said. Decisions are still being made as to whether to build an annex or build out the current school.

For phase two, a 10th grade course will begin in the fall, allowing students to continue in the pathway.

A $4 million investment will fund the expansion of an advanced manufacturing program at Southeastern High School.

On Wednesday, Duggan said getting young people interested in these careers when they are 14 and 15 years old is key. 

"This advanced manufacturing is a really good career," Duggan said. "If you think of making automobiles today as holding a wrench and putting lug nuts on wheels, you have to go to these plants. There are computers and there are robotics and it is exciting."

Some 2.5 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled over the next decade, according to a 2018 study from the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, because of a lack of trained workers and more than 2.6 million Baby Boomers retiring.

Stellantis is investing $2.5 billion into its east-side Detroit Assembly Complex, including opening the first new assembly plant in the city in nearly 30 years. Mack Assembly Plant began producing the three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee L SUV in March with 2,100 employed Detroit residents. Updates to Jefferson North Assembly Plant, home to the two-row Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Durango, still are to come.

The city of Detroit in 2019 paid $50.6 million to acquire 215 acres the automaker needed to make its expansion, contributed to the $60 million in site preparation and environmental cleanup costs, and granted millions more in property tax abatements.

Estereicher, director of state relations, civic engagement and external affairs at Stellantis, said the partnership with the district, city and manufacturer has been a labor of love.

“We have invested at Stellantis $4 million to bring the Southeastern High School Advanced Manufacturing Academy to life,” she said. "This education career pathway program enables students to jumpstart their careers in advanced manufacturing and for us at Stellantis, we hope they will consider us as a place to start their employment journey."

Detroit At Work is a free job training program rolled out by Duggan’s administration in February 2017. Duggan has touted Detroit At Work as the “centerpiece” of his approach to fighting joblessness in the city.

The program offers training in health care, information technology, construction and transportation, retail and hospitality, and manufacturing. Students go through a six- to seven-week training program and have the opportunity to interview for partnering companies with job openings.

The initiative was launched with the goal of getting 40,000 city residents back to work within five years. City officials have said the program accepts residents with all levels of experience and academic achievement.

Staff writers Christine Ferretti and Breana Noble contributed.