Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC has a plan to help young people at risk in Ciudad Acuña, a city of 181,000 people in northern Mexico where the company has operated a manufacturing facility since 1988. In a one-year pilot program, scheduled to begin in September, Bendix will provide 12 courses on light manufacturing techniques to 240 men and women ages 18-25 who are not currently employed or enrolled in school.
The unique 180-hour technical course, in which 12 groups of 20 students will study in one- or two-month-long sessions, will take place at the Bendix Acuña campus. Students will engage in classroom training four days per week and receive practical hands-on experience one day each week.
The program’s goal is twofold: assist in the personal development of each student, and help them become job-ready for the manufacturing workforce – including at Bendix, which will have the choice of hiring up to 80% of the course’s graduates.
Funding for the pilot program is provided by Knorr-Bremse Global Care, which is contributing $150,000. Knorr-Bremse Global Care is a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 by the Knorr-Bremse Group, of which Bendix is a member. The organization was founded to give people in need – through no fault of their own – a chance to lead more independent lives.
Bendix is the North American leader in the development and manufacture of active safety and braking solutions for commercial vehicles. Based in Munich, Germany, Knorr-Bremse is the world’s preeminent manufacturer of braking systems for rail and commercial vehicles.
To operate the vocational program, Bendix is partnering with the Instituto de Capacitación para el Trabajo del Estado de Coahuila (ICATEC), a local training institute with deep community connections that is helping to design the course and recruit students.
Project coordinators for Bendix are Maria Gutierrez, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability; and Carlos Hungria, Chief Operating Officer.
“We believe deeply in doing everything we can to support our home communities – it’s part of who we are at Bendix. In Acuña, we want to make a positive difference in the lives of this group of young men and women,” Hungria says. “Knorr-Bremse Global Care and the Knorr-Bremse Group are making this training possible through their encouragement and generous funding. With ICATEC’s help, we have made it our mission to create a meaningful program that students embrace – and provides a set of skills they can draw on for their entire working life.”
Young People at Risk
Bendix’s project proposal to Knorr-Bremse Global Care cited the high secondary education drop-out rate among students in Acuña. The number of schools and the infrastructure for secondary and high school education in Acuña are not sufficient for the current population, and the city is expected to grow. Opportunities for youth who choose to finish high school are limited. The majority enter the labor force.
Close to the Texas border, Acuña is home to many maquiladoras, or foreign assembly plants and factories. The industrial sector accounts for 60-70% of economic activity. The average education of the workforce, however, is below industrial standards.
“Our program focus became the young people who aren’t working or in school. These young adults are at high risk of disengagement from both education and the labor market. Since they struggle in finding long-term employment, they can become more highly susceptible to influences and activities that may have a negative impact on the community,” Gutierrez says. “The issue at hand becomes how can we help resolve that social need and also help with education? How can we partner with the private sector to identify gaps that could be filled by newly trained youth? What type of short-term intervention would equip the unemployed youth with the skills needed to meet real workforce opportunities?”
Bendix created the light manufacturing technical course as a way to engage and motivate these young people, to help support the community at large, and to help meet its own workforce opportunities. Developed with ICATEC, the program is designed to build the basic skills needed for an assembly operator. The holistic course includes exposure to both technical skills training and life-building skills.
The program will teach students occupational safety, quality and metrology (the science of measurement), lean manufacturing, problem-solving tools, and leadership and teamwork skills. Students will also become certified to operate a forklift. Participants will receive help bolstering life-building skills as well – students will benefit from activities to promote personal development skills, goal-setting, and other short- and long-term life-plan development opportunities.
In addition, the program is aimed at helping students make the transition to the work environment through a combination of classroom coursework and hands-on training in a real manufacturing facility.
“By conducting the training at Bendix, they can start to see what a company looks like, how things work, and what the schedule is,” Gutierrez says. “We’re hoping to help make an impact on their life, to show them other options versus the potential of falling into a non-productive or dangerous path.”
Bendix’s Acuña manufacturing operation was established in May 1988. It currently consists of three state-of-the-art facilities employing more than 1,400 workers and encompassing 412,000 sq. ft. Acuña is one of the fastest growing Bendix manufacturing sites, and executives of the Knorr-Bremse Group consider it a model manufacturing facility. Knorr-Bremse honored the Acuña operation as its top-ranked plant in 2011.
Propelled by ICATEC, entry into the new program includes pre-acceptance testing and interviewing. According to Lic. María Eugenia Calderón Amezcua, Director of the ICATEC Accion Movil Acuña, when recruitment is complete, Bendix and ICATEC will hold a kickoff meeting with the selected youth and their families.
“All of us connected with the program, from those conducting the training to those behind the scenes, are eager to launch into it and excited for the students,” Gutierrez says. “We wish them every success. We’re proud to do our small part to help the students begin to see the opportunities in front of them.”
Commitment to Education
With the support of Knorr-Bremse Global Care, Bendix is also introducing another educational initiative in Acuña. The company is partnering with a local vocational high school, Colegio de Estudios Científicos y Tecnológicos del Estado de Coahuila (CECyTEC), to build an on-site lab at the school that provides hands-on education in state-of-the-art production systems. In addition, Bendix is creating an apprenticeship program at CECyTEC to allow a select number of students to supplement their vocational studies with four six-month rotations at the Bendix Acuña facility.
The educational efforts mark the latest projects in Acuña made possible through the combined funding and volunteer efforts of Bendix and Knorr-Bremse Global Care. Previous projects include the building of a new home for the Casa de Esperanza (House of Hope) orphanage, and the construction of homes for Acuña families who were displaced by a devastating tornado in May 2015.
Knorr-Bremse Global Care was formed as a nonprofit in January 2005 to provide rapid, targeted support in the wake of the Southeast Asia tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004. Since its inception, Global Care has implemented more than 190 projects in 52 countries with a total funding of EUR 14.3 million.
Global Care also aims to help increase the awareness of employees within the Knorr-Bremse Group to the need for greater social involvement, to encourage individuals to become active themselves, and – via Global Care projects – to offer unparalleled leadership and project management experience to its employees.