Back to School: Unemployed Autoworkers Seek New Skills in the Classroom

Out-of-work autoworkers in Ohio are being retrained for new jobs.

DAYTON, Ohio, Sept. 18, 2009— -- ABC News first met Joel Morrow, Brian Armour, Kenny Harris and Mike Hughes during the presidential campaign in 2008 when they had just been hit with a thunderbolt: The General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio, where they had worked collectively for 53 years was about to close for good.

"I gave myself one month to cry and whine and complain and be angry and be mad," said Morrow. "On Feb. 1, I decided that's it, that's enough of that."

Like all union employees at the Moraine plant, they received severance. They also were eligible for a federal program that pays for their re-education.

All four are approaching middle age. All four have gone back to school.

"I'm currently going to school," said Armour. It's "a technical management bachelor's degree."

"I'm currently enrolled in heavy equipment operations site development for construction," said Morrow.

"I'm now enrolled at Butler Tech for an LPN, which is a licensed practical nurse," said Harris.

"I'm enrolled, taking automation controls technology with robotics engineering," said Hughes.

All of the men have made adjustments to their lives. They've downsized, budgeted and gotten used to being in a classroom again.

"When I was 18, 19 years old, I didn't like school," said Harris."I just wanted to get out of school [and] go get a job."

"My family, my children [...] get to see daddy doing homework, and I think I'm setting an example for them," he added.

"I think all of us initially felt a betrayal by the company," said Hughes. "But it was just the kick in the pants to finally suck it up and do something."

Nationally, the jobless rate in the United States rose to 10.8 percent in August, up from 6.6 percent the same time last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ohio's seasonally adjusted jobless rate hit 10.8 percent last month, compared with 6.7 percent in August 2008, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

These men recognize that and also realize that the jobs they seek are likely elsewhere. But that realization did not necessarily come easy.

"It's frustrating," Morrow said. "I just want to work. I'm a worker. I just want to work and feel like I'm wasting my time, I really do."

The men know they are in better shape than many unemployed Americans.

"There's no doubt that we're given opportunities that the normal worker off the street was not given," said Armour.

But some of their former colleagues haven't taken advantage of those opportunities.

Those workers had "just absolutely no interest in retooling or retraining," said Morrow. "I know several people right now that haven't gone to school, haven't applied for a job."

Many Moraine plant workers' homes have been foreclosed and three men who worked at the plant have committed suicide.

Though they are angry at the company, the men who spoke to ABC News still believe in the product.

"It's provided everything that I've ever had. It's provided everything my father's ever had," said Morrow. "It's provided everything I've ever seen in my family, whether it be their home, their cars, vacations."

"All [of it was] provided by General Motors," Morrow added. "Sure, it blew up in my face, but I'll own a GM car until they quit making them."

As for the future, the men all believe in a year's time they will be working again -- Morrow in the resurging construction industry; Armour at the local Air Force base; Hughes teaching robotics; and Harris as a nurse.

"I think it's bright," Harris said of the future.

"You have to make your own future. Nobody's gonna do it for you and that's one of the things I quickly learned," Hughes said. "You gotta go out there and you gotta make your way the way you can best do it."

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