Ford makes coming back to work easier

UPDATED: 5/21/18 1:12 pm ET -- corrected

Editor"s note: This report has been updated with the correct spelling of Marion Lill"s name.

DETROIT — Marion Lill found out the hard way that a lot can change in 10 years, especially when you work — or used to work — in mechanical engineering.

The Canadian had taken a buyout from one of the Detroit 3 in late 2008 as she was expecting her second child but was itching to get back into the automotive industry. Despite applying for multiple positions, she struggled to convince would-be employers to look past her decade away from work.

"I wasn"t getting a lot of feedback or interest for positions I felt I was qualified for," said Lill, 45. "I think the gap in my resume was definitely a factor."

That"s when she turned to a new initiative from Ford Motor Co. meant to help people re-enter the work force after lengthy breaks.

The automaker last fall launched the Ford Career Re-Entry Program, which offers six-month assignments in product development, information technology and manufacturing jobs.

It"s available to workers who have been without a job for at least two years because of family developments, military deployments, moves or other life changes.

Last year, Ford accepted seven candidates into the program, and four of them received full-time jobs with the automaker after the program ended.

"Great support"

Lill entered the programabout five months ago and was given an assignment as a manufacturing engineer for 10-speed transmissions at a suburban Detroit plant. She hopes to be hired by Ford when her program ends but said she"s grateful no matter what happens because she"s been able to learn about a lot of the technological changes in her field.

Kathy Welch, seated at left, is one of four workers Ford hired full time after their re-entry programs ended. She's a cybersecurity analyst.

"It"s been well-organized and has provided lots of great support," Lill said. "Getting this experience did help me feel like I could kind of hit the ground running and get back up to speed by refreshing my skills."

As Ford tries to attract and retain more talent, it"s looking to workers such as Lill as an untapped resource.

And there are plenty of professionals like her to choose from: The Society of Women Engineers estimates that between 54,000 and 216,000 women with technical degrees are on a career break at any given time.

"Their energy and passion is so great," Meeta Huggins, Ford"s chief diversity officer and head of the program, told Automotive News. "They"re so excited to be back at work and to learn new things."

"Learning by doing"

Kathy Welch, 58, is one of the four employees from the program"s first wave who were hired full time. She"s now a Ford cybersecurity analyst in information protection. The Chicago native had worked in information technology with IBM but took a break to raise her family.

When she wanted to go back to work after a 20-year hiatus, she turned to Ford. Welch never had worked in the auto industry but was intrigued with the changes happening in the field.

"Ford"s a really interesting place to work in terms of cybersecurity," she said. "We have the challenges of being a global company, including protection of personal data. We need to look at how vehicles expose information."

Welch said she liked how the re-entry program threw her into the job right from the start and that she was able to lean on co-workers.

"It"s learning by doing," she said.

She said some details have changed since she previously worked in IT but that many of the overarching concepts and foundational skills are the same.

Her biggest shock wasn"t related to new technology or software applications. It had to do with clothes.

"We used to have casual Fridays, but every day can be a casual day in my current role," Welch said. "I"m probably the only one who still has a navy blue suit."