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Ford Motor Co. recently opened a research and innovation center in Atlanta to train software engineers to work on connected vehicles and infotainment systems. A key goal is to create opportunities for Black, Hispanic and female tech talent. To do so, Ford will partner with Georgia Tech and is in discussions with the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC), a nonprofit corporation that comprises four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College.

“We are partnering with local universities within the Atlanta area to establish programs that will expose more of their student population to the types of software opportunities that Ford offers,” said Doron Elliott, senior manager of Ford In-Vehicle Infotainment. Elliott will oversee the new Ford Atlanta Research and Innovation Center (FARIC).

Ford is undergoing a reinvention as a digital services company, and FARIC will create opportunities for software engineers through partnerships with nonprofit workforce development company TechBridge and faith-based community partner City of Refuge, which helps individuals and families build a life away from a crisis and will host some classes.

Previously Ford opened research and development facilities in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Palo Alto, California. In addition to building out its innovation hub, Ford will hold events at the FARIC center to discuss software issues in the automotive and transportation industry, Elliott said.

FARIC aligns with the Ford+ plan to ramp up development of electric, connected vehicles, according to Elliott. In August, Ford announced that it was eliminating 3,000 jobs from its global workforce. Although it will cut from some areas to address its cost structure, the company will still ramp up in other areas, according to Elliott.

“It means redeploying resources and addressing some of our cost structure, which is in some cases, uncompetitive versus traditional and new competitors, and so this includes going down in some areas and scaling up in others, including adding skills, which we don't have enough of today,” Elliott said.

New training and opportunities will come in areas such as artificial intelligence, Elliott added: “We do have a lot of really interesting software-based opportunities and not only AI, but in embedded software development and data analytics that individuals can come and support in this transition with our Ford+ plan in growing our overall feature solutions in connected and electric vehicles.”

Addressing Underrepresentation in Software and Engineering

It’s only appropriate for FARIC to develop underserved software talent in Atlanta, since it’s the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Jeannie Ross, director of job training and employment services at City of Refuge, noted that Martin Luther King Jr. lived about a half a mile from the City of Refuge campus.

Developing a diverse tech workforce is a clear reason why Ford chose to open its innovation center in Atlanta, according to Jahari Soward, chief of partnerships for TechBridge.

“There's a very intentional choice of Ford to make innovation inclusive and identify opportunities to show people what innovation can look and feel like, and that is when we take people from diverse communities and we give them all an opportunity to participate in the tech ecosystem,” Soward said.

TechBridge offers a bootcamp and software development skills that match what Ford is looking for in the metro Atlanta area, according to Elliott. Ford will develop software for its SYNC infotainment systems.

“Our initial focus is around supporting software development projects within the SYNC space,” Elliott said. “But as we continue to build and open, we will be looking for a broad base of software talent to support our overall software-base initiatives.”

TechBridge will work with 20 students from underrepresented communities to provide no-cost technical training, professional development and financial literacy. The students will receive training in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Spring Boot, an open source Java-based framework used to create a micro service. They will also learn algorithms, computational thinking, application program interfaces and app development, Soward said.

Along with tech skills, TechBridge and City of Refuge will offer business skills around salary negotiation, developing a growth mindset, communication and project management. In addition to Ford, companies such as Amazon Web Services, Dell and Intel also run programs for technologists in underrepresented communities. In the future, Soward would like to see the partnership with Ford grow to more cities to create opportunities in tech for a diverse talent pool.

City:One Challenge Brings Opportunities in Mobility

As it announced FARIC, Ford also launched a new City:One Challenge in Atlanta. City:One is a crowd-sourced platform that helps cities such as Atlanta with up to $150,000 in grants to help startups and entrepreneurs navigate mobile apps. AT&T, Delta Air Lines, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Novelis will sponsor the Atlanta City: One Challenge.

Jack Gray, City:One cofounder and team lead at Ford, hopes that the software engineers receiving training at FARIC will participate in community events, submit proposals and support the finalists in the City:One Challenge. Like FARIC, City:One is focused on addressing income inequality in technology, in particular mobility.

“Our hope and expectation is that this collaborative process, and the solutions that are elevated through it, will make a tangible, positive impact on those Atlanta residents who might be experiencing the most significant effects of growing income inequality,” Gray said.