DETROIT-Wayne State University's College of Engineering has introduced a new undergraduate degree track designed to provide skilled shop-floor leaders.

The Production Management Leadership Program (PMLP) is being offered for the first time this fall with financial backing from General Motors Corp., which is providing $85,000 in program development funding and student scholarships. Ford Motor Co. and Visteon Corp. are providing an additional $20,000 each. About a dozen students have enrolled in the program in its first semester.

"There aren't a lot of people who want to go out and be first line supervisors," says Jerry Leman, a former GM plant manager who came out of retirement to become PMLP's first executive coordinator. "It's a tough, tough job. And some of the people on the plant floor aren't always happy to be there everyday."

Still, Leman says that while he remembers well the 10- to 12-hour days and 6-day work weeks that were part of his experience, such work is of vital importance to the U.S. economy and vastly rewarding for the right kind of person.

"The technology in plants today is computer-driven, and with the electronics and sophistication, it just takes technologically capable people to be first line supervisors," Leman says. "On the product design side, it may take a whole year for an engineer to see his or her design incorporated. In production, you see the product going out the door every day. There's satisfaction every day."

Students in the program will be required to take courses in industrial and manufacturing engineering, along with a pair of courses in labor relations taught by Harold Stack, an expert in labor relations and director of the Wayne State Center for Labor Studies. The emphasis in Stack's classes will be on how to work with employees and resolve grievances using a cooperative approach. Stack's course will also include units on leadership styles and problem solving.

As part of the program students are guaranteed internships with the sponsoring companies the summer after their junior year. During these internships students will attend bimonthly meetings on campus to share ideas and meet with professional mentors.