Ford, City of Dearborn work together to build millennial talent pipeline

Victoria Schein moved to Dearborn last year for her job at Ford Motor Co. She lives close to work, so she either bikes or carpools with a friend. She enjoys getting sushi at one of the local restaurants and finds Dearborn a better fit for her than her home base of Palo Alto, California.


“I like it here more,” she says. “It just seems a better fit for me and my career as well. It's really important for me to be in Dearborn to do what I want to do.”


And for Schein, that means doing meaningful work. “Living a life that matters is tied to my career and making an impact,” she says.


As an engineering arts graduate from Smith College, Schein is the kind of young, tech-oriented millennial worker that Ford Motor Company is hoping to attract and retain as it looks to refocus its mission toward a tech-oriented "mobility" company.


“As we are transforming from automotive to automotive and mobility, it's created new opportunities for us to recruit talent," says Julie Lodge-Jarrett, chief learning officer and global director of learning, organization development and recruiting for Ford. Fields such as connectivity, mobility, and autonomous vehicles are “exciting areas” for the automaker in terms of recruitment, she says.


“We amplified our recruiting efforts, and that has led to different competitions for talent. We're now competing with tech companies that historically, in the traditional automotive space, we wouldn’t have competed with.”


For example, take coding, which can be done from anywhere. But the opportunity to do it at Ford has the “potential to impact millions of lives, says Lodge-Jarrett.


"We can tackle macroeconomic issues like road congestion and pollution," she adds. "It's an impact we see many early career employees interested in being a part of. They don't want to just work for a company; they want to work for a cause. They want to be part of things larger than themselves.”


Ford has designed programs to help attract and groom these millennial employees. One such initiative is the Ford College Graduate program, a 32-month, a rotational-based program that gives younger employees the chance to try out different assignments. Upon completion of the program, the employee is placed in their home department to continue their career at Ford.


Schein, originally from Southern California, is a Ford College Graduate participant. She was offered a permanent job four months into her internship. She has worked in innovation management and at the moment is working in climate and thermal systems. She’s up for a new rotation soon and is likely going to be in the design studio, which leans more toward her long-term career goals.


Ford is also helping cultivate millennials like Schein is through a partnership with the nonprofit sector. Last year, Ford launched a 30 Under 30 program; a leadership course that partners 30 top employees under 30 with nonprofits. In this program, Ford employees consult on topics such as human-centered design and use their skills to offer innovative ways to approach nonprofit business models. The goal is to help “build future generations of community-minded employees,” Lodge-Jarrett says.


Another program targeting younger workers is the Catalyst Innovation Challenge, which Schein likens to “Shark Tank.” What started as was a self-initiated grassroots effort now has hundreds of employees from across different departments working together on an innovative idea, Lodge-Jarrett says.
2017 CATALYST winners. Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.

In the program, teams choose an idea and produce a business plan or concept that they present at Demo Day. The work spans different departments, bringing employees who might not otherwise work directly together in a collaborative space. Mentors provide guidance, and senior leaders evaluate the ideas and give feedback.
“In multiple instances, we have commercialized the ideas they've come up with and put them through our product cycle plan,” Lodge-Jarrett says.


As part of its strategies to attract and retain younger talent in-house, Ford is also working with the City of Dearborn and its downtown district to make Dearborn a the kind of place millennials want to live, work and play.


Last year, Ford Land, a subsidiary of the automaker that owns and operates approximately 5 million square feet of commercial office space in Dearborn and Allen Park, announced Wagner Place, a $60 million project that’s part of the company’s 10-year plan to overhaul the aging Dearborn facilities and bring 30,000 employees from 70 buildings to two sites: a product campus and a world headquarters. The project entails turning two blocks of mostly vacant buildings into a mixed-use development with outdoor space, retail, and offices for 600 employees.
Rendering of Wagner Place development. Courtesy Ford Motor Company.

"We see this as an opportunity to create a landmark-type destination that will attract and appeal to the millennial generation,” says Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the West Dearborn Downtown Development Authority.
Cristina Sheppard-Decius. Photo by Doug Coombe.
In recent years, new restaurants such as Brome Burger and Shakes, bars and housing developments such as 42 units of housing in West Village Commons above Bar Louie have moved into the city.


Dearborn is also launching its bike share in June as well as adding more bike lanes to make the city more bike-friendly and walkable. For example, the city is also working with the Ford development to make West Village Drive a festival street that will be shut down for events.


“We're also working with them regarding tenant recruitment and looking at specific retailers and restaurants we want to bring in specifically for those main floor spaces,” Sheppard-Decius says, adding Ford Land has been a good partner on promotions such as Dearborn Restaurant Week.

“[The Wagner development] is a transformational project because not only is it redeveloping vacant old buildings but it's making a huge change for the downtown,” Sheppard-Decius says. “Because of that energy and drive, it's helping to push along other projects that have been talked about for a while to make them a reality.”

Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez lives, eats and writes in Detroit. Her areas of interest and expertise include food, community, and entrepreneurship.
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