February 28, 2019

Workforce training connects Metro Detroiters with careers at Flex-N-Gate automotive supplier

employees in manufacturing plant

Trejuan Johnson, Latoya Franklin and Allen Stewart all successfully completed a Detroit Regional Workforce Fund training program and started jobs at Flex-N-Gate in 2018.

Allen Stewart was updating his resume at a Michigan Works! office when he overheard a conversation about a Focus: HOPE training program for careers at Flex-N-Gate, a Tier 1 automotive supplier.

He had no idea the opportunity would change his life; he simply knew he needed a job.

“I had been laid off from another supplier,” Allen said. “My daughter and my fiancée were depending on me.”

He applied and was soon accepted into the week-long training cohort, which was funded by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF).

As a member of the DRWF funders collaborative, United Way for Southeastern Michigan is building an ecosystem that is supportive of workforce partners, focusing on skill-building programs that promote career and education advancement, as well as advancing policy and advocacy efforts. In 2019, the DRWF will provide approximately 1,100 opportunities for Metro Detroiters to gain skills that will position them for sustainable-wage jobs.

These efforts align with United Way’s Economic Prosperity work. We aim to increase income and wealth, providing targeted support to special populations and geographies, supporting partners and eradicating policies that have disproportionate impact on the economic well-being of low-earning families.

Increasing opportunity

It has taken a collaborate effort to train workers for Flex-N-Gate. As a result, partners like DRWF focused on filling high-demand positions while lifting up workers. The DRWF often fills the gaps to support the public workforce system and employers by leveraging opportunities to provide value-additive supports.

Initially, the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation provided funding to Focus: HOPE for training Detroit residents to fill Flex-N-Gate’s commitment to hiring more than 50 percent of its workers from within the city. DWRF stepped in to provide funding to train an additional 25 employees who live outside the city. All 25, including Allen, completed the training and began working at Flex-N-Gate.

The training centers on skills that are highly sought after by employers, like critical thinking and problem-solving .

“With these trainings, we’re setting the ground rules for long-term success,” said Athena Miller, deputy director of workforce development at Focus: HOPE.

“It’s important that the programs we support offer more than just a job,” said Derrick Meeking, United Way’s director of talent & workforce initiatives. “People need contextualized and comprehensive skill-building and that’s what they’re getting with Focus: HOPE.”

Flex-N-Gate is one of many skills-based training programs funded by the DRWF. These ongoing opportunities are part of a broader initiative to help propel economic growth across the region.

The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund provided funding for a 25-person cohort to complete Flex-N-Gate training with Focus: HOPE.

Leveling up

Allen started work at Flex-N-Gate just days before his wedding. The stable income has alleviated stress on the newlywed and his family. Since then, he moved from a place of uncertainty to confidence. He began as an assembly operator, producing parts for the Ford Ranger. Within a few months, he received a promotion. Now, he sees his career opportunities as endless.

“There’s plenty of room for growth and advancement here,” he said. “That’s what I love about it.”

Latoya Franklin, who also participated in the Focus: HOPE training funded by the DWRF, agrees. She wasn’t sure what to do after being laid off from her job. Working at Flex-N-Gate, she quickly moved up the ranks.

“I was drowning and now I’m swimming,” Latoya said.

Athena has witnessed these scenarios first-hand.

“In some cases, these jobs are life-changing,” Athena said. “We provide an opportunity to earn a higher wage and benefits that can provide stability for a family who maybe didn’t have that before.”

A different experience

DRWF is highly selective of the industries and employers with which they will partner.

“We are not only focused on high-growth in-demand industries, but we also ensure that the employer-partners have a philosophy of supporting the growth and well-being of their employees,” said Meeking.

Flex-N-Gate fosters an employee-centered philosophy. The family-like environment in the plant is visible during shift change. Employees exchange friendly banter and check in with one another on both work and family. When Allen and Latoya hear that fellow Focus: HOPE training participant Trejuan Johnson has just been approved for his first apartment, they cheer with congratulations. All three have previous plant experience but say morale is higher at Flex-N-Gate than other manufacturing facilities.

“We really are a part of a team – and that teamwork is something we learned in the training,” Latoya said. “You get a feel for working with others and you’re able to create more positive energy on the job.”

“I tell anyone who will listen to get involved in one of these employee training programs,” Allen said. “It really does make a big difference.”

Click here to learn more about our Economic Prosperity work.

Detroit Regional Workforce Fund

The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund brings together investors and leaders from the private, public and nonprofit sectors to spark and pilot opportunities that connect low- and moderate-income persons to emerging and growing career pathways. DRWF is an affiliate member of National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and part of a funder’s collaborative of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, General Motors, J.P. Morgan Chase, PNC Bank, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and United Way for Southeastern Michigan.