Going into his senior year at Detroit's Cesar Chavez Academy High School, Agustin Garcia was considering a career in electrical or mechanical engineering, with nary a thought about pursuing a career in the automotive industry.
But a trip this past fall to DENSO, an automotive components manufacturer with a plant in Detroit, has changed his path. The 18-year-old was among about 35 students from his school who toured the plant thanks to the Discover Auto program, a MICHauto initiative that gives students tours of auto-mobility companies to expose students to job opportunities in both sectors.
Garcia, who hails from southwest Detroit and describes himself as an A/B student, was impressed by the behind-the-scenes tour at DENSO. He and his fellow students saw the sound and temperature chambers used for testing automotive components, as well as a truck engine being tested and workers deconstructing car parts to find ways to improve them.
"DENSO really opened my eyes and helped me see what is out there," says Garcia, who now plans to attend a trade school to earn his associate's degree and pursue a job at a company like DENSO.
That's the kind of impact MICHauto's Discover Auto program hopes to achieve. Helping fill the talent pipeline for the automotive and mobility sector is critical for Detroit to maintain its leadership in next-generation mobility, according to Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.
"The talent and supply chain will be a hot topic for a long time," Stevens says. "We want to make sure we're filling a space that is unique, builds synergy with companies we work with, and can have an impact. We want to move perceptions about the automotive industry but not replicate or duplicate what others are doing."
Hundreds of students have participated in Discover Auto since its inception several years ago. The program was relaunched last fall after a short hiatus. Since then, 75 students from three schools – Churchill and Stevenson high schools in Livonia, plus Cesar Chavez – have participated. In addition to DENSI, the other participating companies are HELLA in Northville and IAV Automotive Engineering in Auburn Hills.
"It really has been a win-win," says Jane Johnston, who accompanied her 16 computer science students from Churchill High School on a tour of HELLA, an automotive parts supplier for radar, lighting, and electronic systems. "HELLA really opened a window for them. The students were just really impressed."
Her students, who are interested in jobs in cybersecurity and technology, not only learned about HELLA's role in the automotive industry but also the diverse spectrum of jobs available, including research and development, marketing, engineering, software development, and traditional manufacturing.
"They let them go in the research and development room and the kids went wild," Johnston says. "I can't tell Discover Auto enough about how much of a difference that trip has made with my students."
Stevens says it's beneficial for students to see the passion of the workers at these companies, from the top executives on down.
"If you look at the companies participating in Discover Auto, you'll see you can work for a company that is providing technological marvels to the world as a consumer product," he says. "And, oh, by the way, living, working, and playing in Michigan is a pretty darn good thing to do. Living here offers a great life and a great place to live and raise a family. The companies here provide that opportunity."
Despite the automotive industry's prominence in Detroit and southeast Michigan, misperceptions about the jobs available in the sector abound. But Stevens says he's "seeing perceptions change as kids tour these companies," judging by surveys administered after the tours.
For students who already had an interest in the automotive industry, Discover Auto tours reaffirmed their consideration and opened their eyes to additional opportunities within the automotive and mobility industries. Additionally, a majority of students who were not considering a career in the automotive sector before the tour changed their minds afterward.
Garcia readily admits he knew almost nothing about the automotive industry before taking the 90-minute tour.
"It was my first window into the auto industry. I didn't know much about it except that is always changing," he says. "The things that I saw were amazing, and I want to be a part of that future, leaving a mark on the world, where I can say, 'Yeah, I made a change in the world.'"