Autoworker Retraining Program In High Demand Retraining autoworkers is a key part of President Obama's plan to help communities that are hurt by the auto industry's restructuring. In Michigan, there is huge demand for its "No Worker Left Behind" program. Laid-off workers must wait months to get into a seminar on how to qualify for the program.

Autoworker Retraining Program In High Demand

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Retraining autoworkers is a key part of President Obama's plan to try to help communities hurt by the restructuring of the auto industry. States like Michigan already have programs to retrain workers. Now, there's a new point person to try to improve this system.

Dustin Dwyer of Michigan Radio reports on what can be done.

DUSTIN DWYER: Each state has its own program for retraining, and in Michigan the process starts in this room.

Ms. SARAH TENNANT (Michigan Works): Okay, guys. Everyone's here for the No Worker Left Behind, correct? Everyone knows we're going to be here about three hours? Okay.

DWYER: Sarah Tennant is with the Michigan Works office in Roseville, about 20 miles northeast of Detroit. She's leading a seminar on how laid-off workers can qualify for a retraining program that Michigan calls No Worker Left Behind. And the demand for this seminar?

Ms. TENNANT: It's astronomical.

DWYER: Her office is packed.

Ms. TENNANT: We're actually booked out several months for this seminar, even though we do it twice a day. When we first started, you know, we could get someone in, in a couple weeks; now it's taking a couple months to get into the seminar.

DWYER: And demand is only going to go up as General Motors, Chrysler and all their suppliers continue the tough restructuring that Mr. Obama has demanded. The president's new director of auto recovery, Ed Montgomery, says his job is to help the people affected. Tennant says her office can use some of that help.

Ms. TENNANT: Right now, we need more people and a bigger building. Our building is just busting at the seams right now.

DWYER: Even with the strains on the system, about 61,000 people have gotten retraining assistance in Michigan. They get up to $10,000 in tuition money.

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DWYER: At the student center for Macomb County Community College, Thomas Marciano sits surrounded by people less than half his age. Marciano is taking classes here to become an accountant. He spent 20 years working for a parts supplier, but when his plant closed in 2007, Marciano says he knew it was time to move on.

Mr. THOMAS MARCIANO: We couldn't transfer to another plant. I don't think you could be hired in the other plants — the Big Three — because they had similar situations. And what I've heard, very difficult to get in.

DWYER: So Marciano decided it was time to go back to school. And he has no complaints about how the system has worked for him. But he also got a better deal than some workers today might, because he gets added benefits through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act. The act gives workers money for lost wages and a tax credit for health care, in addition to the tuition help. But only workers whose jobs have gone overseas can get that money.

Kristin Dziczek is with the Center for Automotive Research. She says international trade isn't to blame for what's happening today.

Ms. KRISTIN DZICZEK (Center for Automotive Research): It's an economic reason for job loss right now. So, very few companies are able to qualify under the laws as they're written.

DWYER: Dziczek says those laws should be rewritten so workers in today's crisis can get better help. But even if the law is changed, there's another major problem. No matter what training you have, there aren't enough jobs right now. Until a few weeks ago, Dawan Gibson worked in accounting. Remember, accounting is what Thomas Marciano is getting retrained to do. But Gibson has now been laid off as well. So, she says it's not just about different jobs, it's about more jobs.

Ms. DAWAN GIBSON: There needs to be some kind of stimulus within the economy as a whole in order to get people spending money. And putting money back into the economy is going to create more jobs.

DWYER: The White House estimates the current stimulus plan will create about 115,000 jobs in Michigan alone. But right now, more than 500,000 people in Michigan are on unemployment.

For NPR News, I'm Dustin Dwyer in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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