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Detroiters — Are You Ready to Apply?

Jimmie Gladney helps Detroit residents logging in as they test and fill out an application for FCA jobs at the new Mack assembly plant at the Northwest Activity Center in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

Detroiters, your application window is open.

If you're a Detroit resident who registered for a shot at one of the 4,950 jobs Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to create as part of its SUV production expansion on the city's east side, you can now apply. It is required that you have already registered.

For the next two weeks, applications from pre-qualified Detroiters are being accepted. Those who went through a process designed to prepare residents for jobs in the first new auto plant within Detroit city limits in three decades, as well as at an existing assembly plant, were to receive an emailed application link. As of Monday, they were able to formally apply. Residents in the neighborhoods closest to the FCA project were able to apply beginning two weeks ago.

It's all part of an early hire window for Detroit residents agreed to by FCA after it announced its $2.5 billion investment for the Mack Engine complex and Jefferson North Assembly Plant in February (of $4.5 billion total in metro Detroit). The new Mack plant is expected to begin production by the end of next year, making a new three-row SUV and a redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Detroiters are near the front of the line, although laid-off workers from FCA's Belvidere Assembly in Illinois officially get first dibs.

Following job fairs and an aggressive outreach effort, the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp., the agency tasked with getting Detroiters ready for the new jobs, provided the company with a list of more than 11,000 city residents.

Most of the available jobs will be for production operators, assembly line jobs that pay $17 per hour.

Michael Lackaye, FCA's head of hourly staffing, said these entry level positions are desirable because workers can have a long career and the benefits are competitive. A number of plant managers, he noted, got their start on the line.

While the city will benefit by having more residents in better-paying jobs, FCA also benefits by having workers who live near the plant.

"This serves a business purpose for us," Lackaye said, noting that turnover and absenteeism are driven by geography. Workers who live nearby are more "retainable" and tend to show up for work more.

Lackaye praised the process working with the city as providing more applicant preparation than "almost any job I've hired," and said it could be a template for future efforts. Residents are coming in with their "eyes wide open" about the type of work they're seeking.

Raven Scott, outreach and events coordinator for the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp., said the frank talk and a video showing what working in an assembly plant involves mean applicants are ready and committed.

"People were responsive because we were telling them the truth," she said.

Part of the preparation even involved a mock math test, which Scott said registered a 75% pass rate.

While not everyone who registers and or applies will secure a job with FCA, Lackaye and Scott said the process also makes those Detroiters "visible" to DESC, which can put them in line for supplier jobs that will come to the city as FCA expands.

While those who are invited to apply can do so at their own computer, the city is making space available at locations around Detroit, including the Northwest Activities Center on the west side.

Lamarr Fox, 61, was one of those who stopped by Tuesday to start his application.

He's hoping for a change of pace after working for three years as a chef at the University of Detroit Mercy. He'd like to make more money and secure a better retirement.

Is Fox OK with working on an assembly line?

"A job's a job to me," he said.

For Alonzo Porter, a job with the Detroit Three was always considered a good opportunity. At 48, he's working for a supplier in Detroit putting the material on vehicle seats, and he knows what it's like to work on an assembly line.

"This would be the perfect opportunity for me," Porter said after finishing his application and the approximately 40-minute assessment test that accompanies it.

But Porter's main reason for applying for an FCA job involves his daughters, ages 7 and 8. 

"I want to take care of them," he said. "They're beautiful."

If Porter and Fox are among those selected, they will be invited to an in-person interview at the Mack complex. Interviews begin Nov. 4 and will likely continue through the end of the year. 

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: [email protected] or (313) 223-4272. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.

This story originally appeared here.