Detroit Training Center is located at 5151 Loraine St. in Detroit. Credit: David Lewinski
This piece is part of a two-part series on solutions for economic mobility in Detroit. Read the other story on training Detroiters to lead development in their neighborhoods here.
Kevin Crawford recalls that the night was late and so was his money.
“A guy owed me $3,000 and he slapped me. I shot the guy. I didn’t have a permit. They gave me the business for that. I had to go through it. I was on my way before I got incarcerated.”
Crawford, 63, said prior to his 20 years in a Saginaw prison, he operated an armor guard business. When he got out in 2019, he was looking for a different opportunity that moved him from working with the public. While incarcerated, he began studying trucking and wanted to continue there.
That brought him to the Detroit Training Center, a trade school to ready trainees as soon as possible for high-paying, in-demand jobs. DTC trained and arranged a job interview for him. Crawford is now a truck driver making a base pay of $28 per hour and up to $42 per hour with overtime.
“Detroit Training Center really tries to help people,” Crawford told Detour Detroit. “I give them a five star, a thumbs up for that.”
Crawford’s success story is one that DTC CEO Patrick Beal hopes repeats over and over for its trainees.
Founded in 2012, DTC emerged from an employee need that Beal and his colleagues had: not enough workers for their construction businesses.
“I had a hard time hiring as a contractor, so I decided to do something more formal in training for our own projects,” Beal said. “The funders for training asked us to train others.”
Beal said this direction was more profitable for all, so he and some colleagues pivoted from their construction businesses to create DTC.
DTC has more than half a dozen licensing and certification programs and courses, with workforce development offerings designed to equip trainees to immediately join the workforce. Offerings include the Commercial Driver’s License Training Program, Diesel Mechanic Training Program, Heavy Equipment Operator Training Program, Blight Removal Training Program and Skilled Construction Laborer Training Program. The average program runs 40 hours per week for six weeks during the day. Night programs last about 12 weeks.
Job training that changes to go where the employment opportunities are
“Our big thing is starting with employer demand and jobs with good wages. Where they intersect, we create training to match,” Beal said. “We focus on how we make someone the most amount of money in the least amount of time.” DTC develops its programs from employers and human resource agencies commissioning training courses to fit their needs. They also conduct research to uncover jobs that are in great demand and pay good wages.
The student population comes from employers who recruit workers for their staff, folks that DTC recruits from social service agencies, advertisements, those who come from government agencies and people who enroll on their own. DTC has had more than 1,075 graduates from its workforce development programs since 2014.
DTC partners with the City of Detroit’s Detroit at Work workforce development program, which has nine sites where people can register for the program. Other partners include the Michigan Department of Corrections, the State Approving Agency that services veterans and private employers. In addition to these entities, DTC funding comes from grants, including a $100,000 grant from Motor City Match and Detroit Development Fund.
“We work with government agencies and workforce agencies to identify employer needs and pay for people who have had difficulty being placed in the workforce,” Beal said. “We then are able to get that person hired that might have been looked over. The easiest way to do that is through licensing and certification.”
Beal believes what makes DTC stand out from college and other training programs is the cost, length, percentage of job placements and wages graduates earn. Each year Detroit at Work presents DTC with a scorecard that reflects the DTC job placement rate for trainees, and Beal expects to have at least 80%. Beal said the average wage for CDL graduates is $19.81 per hour.
“Because we come more from the employer perspective, we are able to understand the employer needs and make that person so valuable to the employer that they will pick that candidate and help them to continue to grow,” Beal said.
In considering employer needs, DTC recently offered a concrete mixer driver program and had to hire three new people to run it. Gary Lowell, president of Protocon, a ready-mix concrete supplier company based in Sterling Heights, MI, and where Crawford works, said his company has greatly benefited from the DTC training.
“We let them do the recruiting. Once they have a group together, we interview the candidates and pick the people who will be a good fit for our business,” Lowell said. DTC just completed its second training program for Protocon that was able to place 11 trainees. “It would be good to be philanthropic, but, ultimately, we’re a business, and we wouldn’t be doing it if we weren’t getting positive results from it. It’s worked out well.”
In addition to the concrete mixer driver program, DTC is hiring for several other new positions and will be moving into a larger training facility next year. Beal believes DTC is in high demand both on the student and employer sides right now because people are seeking new fields after losing positions during the pandemic.
Job training only one of Detroiters’ barriers to employment
That demand has meant both staffing shortages in some industries and ongoing struggles to find employment for workers. In Detroit, the unemployment rate has hovered around 25% since fall 2020, according to the University of Michigan’s recurring Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, which surveys a representative sample of city residents.
And even with DTC’s success placing its alums in jobs, challenges remain for trainees.
“The largest barrier our trainees have faced is childcare,” Beal said. “It’s always been an issue, but it has really crept up this year because of COVID.” To combat this, DTC forged a partnership with Wayne Metro Action Agency, which is helping to identify child care resources. DTC also keeps a list of other community resources for driver’s license restoration, clothes, literacy and transportation. Some of the funding agencies provide trainees with a transportation stipend or bus cards.
Transportation remains a major hurdle to trainees’ success. Many have had their licenses revoked because of unpaid tickets that they can’t pay due to poverty. Beal is investigating how he can help get trainees’ driver’s licenses restored.
“We work with a lot of employers on the upper end of the pay scale, and not having a driver’s license has definitely been one of the largest barriers,” Beal said. “If we can help them get the driver’s license and get them the skills, we can literally double their pay.” He said employers looking to hire workers on a promotion track to become a supervisor won’t hire folks without a driver’s license because they won’t be in a position to drive from site to site as a supervisor.
Another pandemic-induced challenge has been that the process to register for DTC is harder because of a few more steps. Potential trainees have to make appointments and test online instead of just walking into a Detroit at Work facility. Nevertheless, Beal said DTC is experiencing the greatest demand ever for its training.
Beal is glad that he was able to transition from a contractor focused on hiring as many people as he could at the lowest rate possible, to someone helping to hire as many people as possible for the highest rate possible. “Now it’s the more they make, the more I make,” Beal said. “If we place more people, we can be more in demand.”
That is truly good news for Crawford, a husband and father of three adult children who is starting a new life.
“I don’t want to just sit down. There are opportunities. You just have to have the mind and will,” Crawford said. “I plan to get myself together, get my credit together and get some assets. DTC is helping a guy do that.”
This story was produced with support from the Solutions Journalism Network.
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