Experts Weigh In: Long-Term Impact of COVID-19 on the Automotive Talent Pipeline

A leading lineup of automotive industry and education experts discussed the long-term talent impact of COVID-19 on the automotive talent pipeline. The two-part discussion hosted by MICHauto in partnership with the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) focused first on both the industry perspective and the workforce development response.

Panel One: Industry Perspective on Talent Impact

Beginning the conversation with reflections on initial impressions of the expected impact of COVID-19, moderator Jerome Vaughn, news director of 101.9 WDET, asked panelists to share what they thought would change back in March and how that aligns with what is happening now. Panelists Eric James of Ford Motor Company, Peter Hungerford of ADAC Automotive Inc., and Renee McLeod of Adient, shared that immediate actions were taken within their global companies, having already been impacted in China and other parts of the globe. However, they concur, longer-term impacts are still developing.

In terms of recruiting and retaining employees, the shift to remote work is impacting how and where to secure the right people for the right jobs. With many technology companies already facing a shortage of skilled trades, software engineers, and technology talent, employers are seeking new options.

“I think one of the most interesting learnings from my perspective is our ability to work remotely. I think that there has been a lot of trial and error in terms of trying to figure out how to be more flexible in our work environment, and this was trial by fire. I think that we came out of it doing quite well,” said MacLeod. “It’s really changed our perspective on the purpose of an office, the purpose of our facilities and it’s going to allow us to be a lot more flexible in terms of where our workforce resides, our footprint. And while it opens up a lot of opportunities from a talent perspective, it also introduces some challenges for us as that need to move and to be physically located in one place becomes less and less important.”

What makes this changing work dynamic harder for recruiting is that, even though the process for recruitment itself has not changed much, integration of new employees into work culture is more time consuming. Hungerford believes that there is a part of this new remote work environment that is very attractive, but it needs to be balanced among those that work in industrial manufacturing as well.

“Finding that balance, trying to make sure that new team members are appropriately welcomed and oriented to the culture, that’s the more significant change,” he said.

A new trend emerging among employers to prepare the next-generation workforce is the virtual internship. With a decrease in college enrollment this year, it is especially important not to disrupt the cycle of talent. James spoke to the importance of adapting to a virtual internship program with 600 interns this past summer.

“We made some modifications but we wanted to provide that experience for those young folks we had made a commitment to almost nine months or a year ago. We surveyed them, we talked to our people leaders on how they do that, and I can tell you, there was an air of maybe we should cancel this year,” said James. “It’s like, well folks, we’re going to lose a whole cycle of talent if we do that. That could be a huge gap for us. So we have to figure out how to adapt, how to embrace it, and we said we’re going to do it.”

When it comes to planning in this time of uncertainty, all three panelists agree that this industry faces continuous change and new challenges. Sticking with your core strategy while also being adaptive as you go is key to steering the organization. One thing that must change, though, is the approach to recruiting, starting to engage younger audiences. Hungerford agreed, saying that the industry needs to get more involved in K-14, supporting a variety of career paths, and providing education assistance for associate degrees by being intentional in getting that next generation of talent interested in those fields.

Panel Two: Workforce Development Perspective on Talent Impact

Introducing the educator and workforce development perspective, Vaughn asked the University of Michigan’s Susan Dynarski, Henry Ford College’s Russ Kavalhuna, and the Michigan Mobility Institute’s Dexter Sullivan, to share their initial reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. It took some time in the education sector for the full impact to be realized as educators worked tirelessly from March through July to transition students to a virtual environment. That impact varied among K-12, graduate, and post-graduate students.

Six months in, educators feel that they are still largely in the dark. Metrics previously used to measure the success of education, like attendance and standardized tests, are no longer feasible to track. There is a large divide between virtual working parents and office workers that impacts their remote K-12 students. Now seeing a substantial drop in community college enrollment, Dynarski said this is troubling because community colleges are traditionally where workers go to wait out recessions and build their skills so that once the upturn comes they are ready to join the workforce. Without this interest in community college right now, the talent pipeline is not as strong as it could be.

Given this challenging situation with our schools, Vaughn asked, what role can government or local organizations play in advancing the talent pipeline and solving this problem existed even before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted? Kavalhuna highlighted what is being done well by the State like Future for Frontliners, in an effort to get more citizens to attain postsecondary education credentials, with a target for the state to increase from 45% to 60% attainment.

“The legislature just passed a budget that funded the Governor’s initial tuition-free college programs, so we’re moving in the right direction as a state by investing in our citizens getting into higher education,” he said. “We’ve got a really good infrastructure here for higher education in the state.”

On the contrary, there remains an opportunity for Michigan to be more competitive with other states when it comes to funding. Dynarski agreed, noting that the state does not have a constitutional means by which to make up the shortfalls in education funding.  The federal government needs to do more as well so that colleges can upgrade technology, obtain testing and tracing resources, and re-open in a careful and gradual way.

MICHauto Unveils New Board of Directors, Announces Chair

MICHauto today named the Chair of its Board of Directors, which was formed earlier this year. Lisa Lunsford, co-founder and CEO of Global Strategic Supply Solutions (GS3), was officially instated as Chair of the Board during the Sept. 29 meeting. To enhance MICHauto’s work and role as the state’s only automotive and mobility cluster association, the Board will ensure MICHauto is effective. It will serve as a strategic advisor to the organization in developing, administrating, and evaluating sound operations and policies within the financial guidelines.

Lisa Lunsford, Co-founder and CEO, GS3; Chair, MICHauto Board of Directors

“Lisa is a veteran of the automotive industry and an entrepreneur. She has advised MICHauto and the Detroit Regional Chamber for several years,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “As the Chair of MICHauto’s Board, her leadership will be a key voice to promote, retain, and grow the automotive and mobility industry in Michigan.”

Under Lunsford’s leadership, GS3 Global was ranked among the top 50 largest woman-owned businesses in Michigan by Crain’s Detroit Business in 2017. Lunsford brings over 30 years of experience in the mobility space, and has been serving on the Detroit Regional Chamber Board of Directors since 2018. As Board Chair, Lunsford will give guidance to the MICHauto Team on critical industry issues and recommend actions to be discussed with the broader Board.

Between now and the end of the calendar year, MICHauto will be working with the Board to refine its strategy within four pillars of engagement: Executive ConveningAdvocacyNext-Generation Mobility, and Talent Attraction and Industry Awareness. This work is more important than ever as the industry moves through the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and into the foreseeable future.

The full Board of Directors includes:

  • Lisa Lunsford, Chair, MICHauto Board of Directors; Co-founder and CEO, GS3
  • Rose Bellanca, President and CEO, Washtenaw Community College
  • Mike Bernas, Vice President, Toyota Motor North America
  • Mary Buchzeiger, President and CEO, Lucerne International
  • Mark Burton, CEO, Michigan Economic Development Corp.
  • Brian Decker, Partner, Automotive Advisory Leader, PwC
  • Jerome Dorlack, Vice President of the Americas, Adient US LLC
  • Carl Esposito, Senior Vice President and President, E-Systems, Lear Corp.
  • Russell Goemaere, President, Grupo North America, Grupo Antolin
  • Richard Haas, President and CEO, Mahindra Automotive North America
  • Dennis Hoeg, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, North America Division, Nexteer Automotive
  • Jonathon Husby, President and CEO, North America, SEG Automotive
  • Maureen Krauss, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Partnership
  • Tom Manganello, Partner, Co-Chair Automotive Industry Group, Warner Norcross + Judd LLP
  • Bob McMahan, President, Kettering University
  • Tim Mroz, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, The Right Place, Inc.
  • Raj Nair, President and Chief Operating Officer, Multimatic
  • Michael Pricer, Managing Director, National Industrial Manufacturing Commercial Lead, KPMG LLP
  • Vicky Rad, Director, Planning and Economic Development, Macomb County
  • Jay Sandhu, CEO, NYX Inc.
  • Sean Silver, Senior Vice President, Michigan Market Executive, Global Commercial Banking, Bank of America
  • Bruce Smith, Chairman and CEO, Detroit Manufacturing Systems LLC

The MICHauto Board of Directors will meet quarterly, and the next meeting scheduled for Dec. 15. Special meetings may be added in response to economic or environmental needs.

Data Highlight: Return-to-Work, Child Care Impacts on Productivity

In March of 2020, Gov. Whitmer ordered all schools to conduct the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year virtually due to COVID-19. As new cases in Michigan steadied, the Governor transitioned the majority of Michigan into the “improving” phase of her MI Safe Start Plan.

In this phase, schools are allowed to resume in-person, however, she agreed to allow Michigan’s school districts and charter schools to create their own reopening plans, giving schools the option to open in-person, virtually, or with a hybrid model. While this sparked a lot of questions and concerns for the students’ learning, employers had just as many questions and concerns. What does this mean for their employees? How will this impact productivity? How should they adjust to their employees’ new work-from-home situation and parental demands?

The Detroit Regional Chamber developed a K-12 tracker to monitor the status of school openings in Southeast Michigan. In addition, they surveyed businesses on employee concerns and plans for mitigating child-care challenges. With 58% of schools starting online this fall and 75% of businesses workforce shifting to remote work, there are large concerns that employees will not fully return to work due to child care issues. However, a majority of employers responded that their organization is aware of the needs of employees with children. Seventy-one percent of employers surveyed have provided flexible working hours to support employees with children, and 82% have provided work from home options.

View the complete data to see how employers are impacted by and reacting to these evolving workplace concerns.


Automotive Cybersecurity: A Global Conversation About Test, Evaluation, and Industry Trends

As the automotive industry embraces the future of advanced transportation mobility, the conversation about cybersecurity is increasingly important. At the forefront of the discussion is cybersecurity testing and industry trends for connected, automated, and electrified vehicles. Representatives from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Netherlands’ Consulate General, the American Center for Mobility, and GRIMM, engaged in a high level discussion on the risks and rewards of advanced transportation mobility and practices to increase the cyber resilience of connected vehicles and the world in which they operate.

Partnership between Michigan and the Netherlands

Last month, Gov. Whitmer announced plans for a corridor project that would stretch from Ann Arbor to Detroit, and advance key policy goals related to safety, accessibility, affordability, and equity of transportation. As a leader in the automotive landscape with a newly created Office for Future Mobility and Electrification, it seems natural that the state would play a part in ushering in the next generation of cybersecurity.

Michigan has the right university ecosystem in place and the right talent, as home to researchers, coders, mathematicians, and analysts, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said.

With these advancements and the Netherland’s top ranking in automated vehicle readiness in mind, it makes sense that the State of Michigan and the Netherlands hold a memorandum of understanding that outlines a partnership of shared research and knowledge related to intelligent vehicle transportation.

Convergence of Industries

The mobility industry represents a convergence of multiple industries, including automotive, cybersecurity, telecom, energy, insurance, technology, retail, and more. The American Center for Mobility (ACM) serves as a collaborative effort between government, automotive, and academic organizations focused on speeding up the mobility industry through research and development, using vehicle laboratories, road systems, and test environments.

The current focus for connected and automated vehicle (CAV) testing needs is on the network and infrastructure, including optimized cell coverage, fiber optic cable, cloud data management, and more, said Reuben Sarkar, CEO of ACM.

ACM has partnered with cybersecurity company, GRIMM, to offer integrated automotive for cybersecurity services and a Car-Hacking Workbench to ACM customers.

Cybersecurity Trends and Automotive

Jennifer Tisdale, principal, Cyber-Physical Systems for GRIMM has worked to review the automotive cybersecurity trends in conjunction with levels of autonomy, finding that as levels progress, risks increase.

Security concerns include worries related to electric vehicles and charging stations, CAVs and shifting fatality responsibility, intelligent transportation systems and high impact navigation risk, and electronic control units and system hacking.

As systems become more autonomous, there is an opportunity for policy makers to bring cohesion and create standards and policies to keep pace with changing hacking methods, Tisdale said.

Automotive Industry Reputation: Shifting Student Perception

MICHauto’s Senior Director, Carolyn Sauer, recently spoke with Girish Kotagiri, a high school senior who recently completed an internship with one of the state’s top automotive suppliers. Below, read the first-hand account about how industry perception is transforming among the next generation of talent through hands-on experience.

When you think about the automotive industry, what do you picture? There was a time when I associated the automotive industry with labor-intensive work, done in old manufacturing plants. A lot has changed since I first visited the manufacturing plant floor with my dad.  I’ve now been in the auto industry for 21 years and have seen high-functioning plants with advanced technology. For suppliers and OEMs, it is this firsthand look at manufacturing facilities that really paints the picture of what automotive is today and will be in the future.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing high school senior, Girish Kotagiri, to hear his perspective on the automotive industry. Having interned for a major automotive supplier, Kotagiri’s perception of the industry shifted significantly. In fact, Kotagiri was so impressed by what he saw and learned while working with the company that he is strongly considering a career in automotive. Over the course of his internship, Kotagiri documented his impressions and astute observations in a paper titled, “Automation and AI in Manufacturing.”

As the Michigan automotive and mobility industry faces a talent shortage, the focus must shift to how the industry is perceived and working towards changing that perception. It is important that automotive be depicted as it stands today and moving forward: high-tech, growth oriented, and global. That is something Kotagiri agrees with.

“Before getting experience, I did not realize the depth of the robotics and technology in the industry. I thought of automotive as an older industry. But now I have seen that automotive must continuously evolve and change. That [manufacturers] are changing daily is pretty cool,” said Kotagiri.

So how do we paint this picture of the automotive industry to our community, students, and young professionals, to sustain our advancing industry? Educating our community, accurately branding the industry, and engaging students as young as middle school in automotive tours and industry experiences can make an impact. For Kotagiri, the plant tour and internship were pivotal in his perception of the automotive industry.

“It was really the plant tour that was a turning point. Watching the process of work in the field and seeing the amount of skills required was eye opening,” said Kotagiri. “It was fun to see where different skills may be a fit and watching the manufacturing process bring parts to life.”

Most interesting to Kotagiri in his career consideration of automotive is the infinite scope of what is possible. In only one month, he saw the impact of a simple robotic program on increased efficiency and cost-savings opportunities. Leveraging automation to save time and money frees up resources that could be used towards the continued development of the world’s most complex computer, the automobile.

Some of Kotagiri’s key take-aways highlighted in his article include:

  • The future of automation can create a level playing field for manufacturing across the globe.
  • Continuing automation and development of AI increase overall manufacturing efficiency.
  • Manufacturing automation allows workers to continuously advance their skills.

Click here to read the full article.

For more information on how your company can showcase high-tech capabilities and technology among middle school and high school students, please contact Jenny Orletski-Dehne and ask about our Virtual Discover Auto program. Click here for more details.

MICHauto Testifies Against House Bill 6233 on Direct Sales

MICHauto’s Director of Government and Community Affairs Jason Puscas provided written testimony today to the Michigan House Government Operations Committee in opposition to House Bill 6233. The issue of direct sales is an important and timely discussion as Michigan seeks to preserve its longstanding dealer franchise model while adapting to the needs presented by the emergence of a consumer market for electric and autonomous vehicles.

MICHauto shares its members’ and the broader business, labor, and environmental communities’ concerns that a rushed effort will fail to address the intended issues while inadvertently causing harm to its ongoing efforts related to economic development, market competition, and the pursuit of a clean energy vehicle fleet. The Detroit Regional Chamber also penned a letter to the same effect.

View the official testimony below.

September 24, 2020
Testimony to the House Government Operations Committee
in opposition of House Bill 6233

MICHauto is a statewide economic development initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber, dedicated to promoting, retaining, and growing the automotive industry in Michigan. MICHauto embodies a public-private strategy, championing Michigan as the global epicenter of the automotive industry and providing a platform for collaboration on advocacy and talent attraction and development.

MICHauto urges your opposition to House Bill 6233 as introduced. While well intentioned, the objectives of this bill are not ready for legislative consideration, and MICHauto shares the concerns of our members and the broader business, labor, and environmental communities that a rushed effort will fail to address the intended issues while inadvertently causing harm to our ongoing efforts related to economic development, market competition, and the pursuit of a clean energy vehicle fleet.

The issue of direct sales is an important and timely discussion as Michigan seeks to preserve its longstanding dealer franchise model while adapting to the needs presented by the emergence of a consumer market for electric and autonomous vehicles. Michigan’s role as a global leader in this dynamic environment necessitates a balance between protecting the consumer, safety, and enabling a progressive market that is open to new and innovative business models. While HB 6233 hopes to address this issue, codification of the Tesla v Benson stipulated agreement serves as insufficient and potentially harmful. As Michigan continues to pursue the world’s innovators, it must maintain an open door to prospective companies, which will only be hindered by inadvertently creating a closed, unequal, and uncompetitive regulatory scheme.

Michigan’s current warranty compensation rate statute is the result of years of negotiations between manufacturers, auto dealers, and other related stakeholders. Adopted only two years ago, MICHauto and our members have been pleased with the overall results and are not aware of a single complaint or concern from anyone in the automotive community. Revisiting this issue so soon without a compelling reason seems to lack merit and will only create greater confusion and uncertainty in the market. It is also worth recognizing that the proposed bill, by interjecting into pre-existing contracts and unilaterally restating their terms, sets a dangerous – and in this case, wholly unnecessary – precedent of infringing on contractual agreements between consenting private parties.

MICHauto appreciates the ongoing positive relationship shared with Rep. Sheppard as an ally and advocate of Michigan’s automotive industry. We look forward to continuing this conversation on behalf of the industry and participating in a thoughtful discussion on how best to achieve all of these shared objectives.

Sincerely, Jason Puscas
Director, Government and Community Affairs

Middle-Skill Workforce Report Reveals Talent Needs for Connected Vehicles

Connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) are reimagining how automobiles move and interact with their environment, driving new industry development and disrupting traditional suppliers and workers. For regions like Southeast Michigan to succeed in this new era, a well-trained workforce will be needed. The University of Michigan Economic Growth Institute, with support from MICHauto investor American Center for Mobility (ACM), and the Ralph Wilson Foundation, researched the emerging middle-skill workforce needed to support CAVs.  

The subsequent reportUnderstanding the Middle-Skill Workforce in the Connected & Automated Vehicle Sector, provides context for the evolving job duties and details the necessary soft skills and technical skills for the current and future workforce. Additionally, emerging gaps are highlighted for the current and future workforce. 

View the full report.

Key findings demonstrate that a combined mechatronics skillset (a combination of mechanical, electrical, and electronic knowledge) forms the critical foundation for the CAV technician workforce. Advanced skills in software and data systems as well as skills in cybersecurity will be necessary as vehicle complexity and connectivity continues to expand.  

Technicians offer unique perspectives and experiences and can help streamline advancements when appropriately equipped and trained. The success of this sector in Southeast Michigan will depend not only on the engineering designers and innovators, but also the technicians who assist in bringing an idea from design into reality. 

MICHauto Reacts: US Drops Tax on Canadian Aluminum

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced this week that it is ending the 10% tariffs on Canadian aluminum after imposing them in August. The office noted that shipments of Canadian aluminum are returning to normal levels and that it could re-impose the tariffs if imports spike again. Canada was also preparing to impose tariffs on U.S. products before this update was announced.

As an advocate for the state’s automotive industry, MICHauto supports the elimination of this tax. By not imposing these tariffs, the U.S. remains committed to faithfully enacting the terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, avoids retaliatory tariffs, and preserves the positive relationship with our largest trading partner. Further, this action maintains affordable materials prices for our state’s automotive companies at a time when they are already battling other challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, MICHauto spoke out in opposition of these taxes stating, “At a time when business of all sizes depends on trade for economic growth and job creation – amid an ongoing economic downturn due to COVID-19 – decreasing the value of our cross-border partnership that has shown resiliency the past few months, is harmful to manufacturing and the economy.”

Read MICHauto’s official statement on the matter here.

MICHauto Investors Gather Virtually for Two Weeks of Meetings with Legislators

From Sept. 8-18, MICHauto brought together executives from 12 automotive companies to meet with 28 legislators for 2020 Capitol Conversations: Automotive Impact virtual sessions. Throughout the two weeks of digital meetings, automotive leaders had the opportunity to discuss issues that are critically impacting their companies’ growth, worker safety, and the overall economic health of the industry amid the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Reminiscent of MICHauto’s annual Automobility Day at the Capitol, the 2020 Capitol Conversations aimed to foster collaboration between industry leaders and the state government. While MICHauto was unable to bring investors to Lansing this year, it has never been more important for legislators to have a deep understanding of the impact the industry has on their district and their constituents.

“Bringing together legislators and the voice of the industry is critically important as we navigate the challenges of the pandemic and position Michigan to be a global leader in automobility,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Discussions during the two weeks focused on the impact of COVID-19 on Michigan’s automotive industry, with emphasis on steps companies have taken to protect the health of their workers, the impact on the talent pipeline and the ability to get employees back to work, the importance of avoiding another industry-wide shut down, and increased liability issues.

“These small group conversations were very effective in openly discussing our new challenges during a pandemic, and the talent and technology opportunities that will enable our industry’s growth,” said Stevens.

Bamboo Detroit, Ford Motor Company to Host ‘Michigan Central Sessions’ Starting Sept. 16

Join Ford Motor Company and Bamboo Detroit on Wednesday, Sept. 16 from 6-7 p.m. as they bring you local and global experts on mobility, innovation, and startups.

All are invited to join a virtual series this Fall to learn about new trends and technologies shaping our cities’ futures during and after the crisis, and what startups can build and innovate on next. Details for this virtual gathering and discussion will be provided upon registration.

The first session on Sept.16 will explore how innovation districts can fuel startup and economic growth. Hear lessons from leaders in innovation across the country, and discuss together what could be created right here in Detroit to foster new companies.

Upcoming sessions are scheduled for Oct. 14 and Nov. 18.