MICHauto Testifies in Lansing on Solutions for State’s Labor Shortage

On June 17, MICHauto Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr.; Global Strategic Supply Solutions Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, and MICHauto Board Chair Lisa Lunsford; and Shape General Counsel Aida Tanaka, testified before the Michigan House Workforce Committee on the continuing labor shortage issues facing the automotive and mobility industry and state.

The automotive and mobility industry provides over 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs in the state of Michigan, more than $71 billion in compensation and benefits, $9 billion in state and local taxes, and generates over $304 billion annually. With such an extensive footprint in the state’s economy, the automotive industry is susceptible to market or labor force issues. Consequently, the COVID-19 induced labor shortage severely impacts the industry, which will ultimately hurt Michigan’s ability to have a full and robust economic recovery.

In his testimony, Stevens highlighted that labor issues were a problem before COVID-19, but the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation. The unemployment rate in February of 2020 in Michigan was 3.7%. Today it is 4.9% (better than the national average of 6.1%), but the labor force participation is at 58.7%, which places Michigan a troubling 42nd in the nation.

In a May poll of registered Michigan voters, the Detroit Regional Chamber found that 22.2% of those employed before COVID-19, but who were no longer looking for a job were over 50 (13.6% 65 years or older). This tracks with data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis that shows labor force participation of workers over the age of 55 has fallen 2% since the start of the pandemic, resulting in two million fewer workers nationwide. This trend has a particularly harmful impact on the mobility industry, where National Association of Manufacturers’ data showed that nearly one in four manufacturing workers are age 55 or older before the pandemic.

In addition to older workers leaving the labor force, Stevens pointed to four additional causes of the labor shortage in his testimony:

  • The impact of unemployment insurance and supplemental benefits has impacted the labor force participation and a willingness to work.
  • The need to stay home to care for children or older adults. In late March, the Census Household Pulse showed that 6.3 million people were not working because of a need to care for a child, not in a school or daycare center, and a further 2.1 million were caring for an older person.
  • Health concerns and personal safety issues are impacting participation. The Chamber’s May poll found that 22.9% said they did not feel safe or cited COVID-19 safety.
  • According to a detailed study out of the University of Minnesota, there is a strong correlation between vaccination rates and employment rates. Michigan ranks 23rd in the nation for vaccinations. Industry leaders are very concerned about its low rates, given the looming variants and changes in seasons and people’s behaviors.


Lunsford, Stevens, and Tanaka highlighted that simply raising wages is insufficient. The industry has been increasing wages to match or exceed competitors like Amazon and still are struggling to fill jobs at every level of the organization.

“Shape has raised its wages, offered flexible work arrangements, and located child care services for our team members,” said Tanaka during testimony. “These are the right things to do for our Shape family, but further illustrate that the cost of doing business in this state is going up.”

Policy solutions that improve educational opportunities and increase talent in the labor market are critical for Michigan to be competitive in the long term. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) estimates that 75% of the jobs of the future will require a postsecondary degree. However, only 48.6% of Michigan adults currently have a two-year, four-year, or professional certificate. Both government and business leaders have significant roles to play in helping to close that gap through high school apprenticeship programs, supporting fast-track training programs at local community and technical colleges and on-the-job training programs.

Stevens described the challenge and opportunity as he concluded his testimony, “We need to do everything we can to help the short-term issue, but the most important thing is to shape the future. Our collective job is to do everything we can to support the companies that make their home our state and provide livelihoods to Michiganders. If they are going to compete and grow, and if we are going to attract new companies it will only happen if we have skilled and motivated employees for the jobs of today and for the future.”

Data Highlight: Top Job Postings and Skills for the Incoming Workforce

As students in the Detroit region graduate high school and college and start to prepare for their future, there are many pathways into automotive that are available to them. In 2020, the top posted occupations in the Detroit region ranged from software development, mechanical and electrical engineering, sales, and marketing. The top 10 on average had 1,791 unique postings between December 2019 and December 2020 with a total of 17,914, thus indicating there are jobs available, and not just in engineering.

Top Posted Occupations

Source: EMSI, NAICS 3361-3

In addition, as students develop their skills in class and through internships, they should take into account the top posted common skills. These skills include communications, sales, leadership, problem solving, and planning. There are many opportunities in school and particularly through internships to build upon these skills to make themselves more marketable for job opportunities.

Top Common Skills

Source: EMSI

The data shows that there are opportunities for individuals with different educational backgrounds, hard skills, and soft skills in the automotive industry. In addition, the automotive companies are hiring. As students make college and career decisions, these statistics are critical to promote and track in order to guide the next generation workforce.

MICHauto Launches Industrywide Talent Attraction Campaign to Improve Career Perceptions

Earlier this month, MICHauto launched a first-of-its-kind industrywide talent attraction campaign to raise awareness about and improve the perception of careers in the automotive and mobility industry among emerging talent. Through this grassroots-style social media campaign, young professionals offer testimonials in an authentic voice to share their career journeys, what attracted them to the industry, and how they are making an impact on the world around them, under the tagline of Discover Auto: You Drive the Future.

With direct input from high school focus groups, a task force made up of MICHauto Talent Attraction and Industry Awareness Committee members and lead by Carolyn Sauer, MICHauto’s senior director, and Jenny Orletski-Dehne, its coordinator, MICHauto collaborated to drive a new narrative among students that automotive is high-tech, growing, global, and inclusive.

This campaign answers the call of MICHauto investors to bolster the workforce and ensure Michigan’s continued global leadership in the industry for generations to come.

“The focus groups were a critical part of the planning for this campaign,” said Orletski-Dehne. “We had a lot of ideas about images and messaging that we thought would resonate well with this audience, and what we learned is that they are highly selective in what they are willing to stop scrolling for on social media. It needs to be quick, impactful, and have very few words.”

Michigan’s automotive and mobility industry contributed $304 billion in total economic output in 2019 but falls short when it comes to attracting and retaining the talent needed to support an innovative and growing industry. More than 1.1 million jobs are either directly or indirectly tied to the industry, accounting for 25% of Michigan’s 4 million private-sector jobs according to a recent MICHauto study. These are also some of the highest-paying jobs in our state. The average compensation for a worker in the industry is $65,000 compared with the state average of just under $30,000.

So why is there such a shortage of talent when it comes to filling these high-tech jobs? Task force members agree that there is still a stigma associated with the industry that it is not exciting, growing, or innovative.  Images conveyed in television and movies often depict the “olden” days of manufacturing in a dark and unappealing setting. Yet the excitement and innovation of what is actually happening today are conveyed through the firsthand stories of the young professionals that are featured throughout the campaign.

“When you listen to these stories, you hear the excitement in the voices of these young professionals. Most admit they had not initially considered a career in automotive, but now that they have landed in one, they are finding it interesting and impactful to work on projects that enhance the design, quality, and safety of products that they use, and in some cases, even impacting the environment around them,” said Sauer.

While the perception of automotive and mobility has improved, there is still work to be done by engaging students much earlier in the pipeline. The campaign targets specific audiences with messaging that resonates with each. Instagram key visuals and video clips are geared towards middle school and high school students, while LinkedIn focuses on influencers, like parents in the professional community. Beyond social media, MICHauto has partner support in sharing the message among school communities across the state from Square One Education Network and Project Lead the Way. Both organizations supported the Discover Auto series when it moved to a virtual platform last year due to the pandemic, engaging more than 500 students.

“This campaign expands on the work being done through Discover Auto and drives the new narrative through firsthand experience, creating a toolkit of assets that industry organizations and companies across the automotive and mobility supply chain can use to reinforce their messaging and highlight the innovative and fresh environments professionals can work in,” said Sauer.

Several MICHauto investor companies participated in the talent attraction campaign because they understand the importance of storytelling related to the industry and highlighting the innovative approaches that they are taking to grow the talent pipeline. Companies that contributed to the development of the pilot include American Center for Mobility, Continental Structural Plastics, Denso, Doerken Coatings, HELLA, Lear Corporation, OpTech, and Toyota.

Ben Cohen, head of sales excellence and marketing at HELLA says, “As a proud member of the automotive community here in Michigan, HELLA jumped at the opportunity to be an early supporter of the industry talent perception campaign and show the world how exciting and diverse automotive truly is.”

Toolkits are available to promote this campaign, including a revamped Discover Auto logo, campaign infographics and taglines, day-in-the-life videos, bios, and career maps.

To get involved in the next phase of the branding campaign, reach out to Jenny Orletski-Dehne or Carolyn Sauer.  Not a MICHauto investor yet? Contact Kathryn Smith to learn more.

GM exec’s son died because of distracted driver. Now he’s trying to change laws.

Detroit Free Press
June 26, 2021
Carol Cain

Get ready to hear about “Just Drive” and “100 Deadliest Days” from some celebrities who will join the Kiefer Foundation and its new ad campaign to help raise awareness about distracted driving and inspire new laws in Michigan and other states to help thwart it.

“Just Drive” is the slogan of the campaign launched by the Kiefer Foundation and “100 Deadliest Days” the headline on new ads that will appear on social media and other places, showing graphic photos of actual vehicles involved in fatalities, with messages about distracted driving.

The Kiefer Foundation, based in Plymouth, was born from the heartache of a father who lost a son in an auto accident caused by a distracted driver. He started the foundation to honor his son and educate people about distracted driving.

Nevermind that the dad, Steven Kiefer, is a car guy and serves as president of General Motors International. His day job involves sales and marketing of vehicles in 60 markets across the globe.

Like most of us, he didn’t know much about distracted driving before his son’s death. But the more he learned, the more eye-opening the statistics and his decision to step up and help so others would not have to walk in his shoes.

“Nothing prepares you for that,” he told me as he recounted the tragedy that unfolded on Sept. 19, 2016.

Mitchel Kiefer was driving from his family’s home in metro Detroit back to Michigan State University — where he’d begun studies to become a psychologist, with visions of making a difference in the world — when his car was rear-ended by a 20-year-old distracted driver on I-96 in Ingham County.

The driver of the other vehicle, a college student heading back to Western Michigan University, failed to slow down as traffic came to a standstill due to congestion on I-96, near Dietz Road. She slammed into Mitchel Kiefer’s car going 81 mph, which sent his car sailing across the small grassy median into oncoming traffic, where it was struck by a truck, killing him instantly.

The driver who caused the accident survived, plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of “moving violation causing death,” paid $1,900 in fines, was sentenced to 24 days of community service, and put on probation for two years.

“No one knows what (the other driver) was doing, but it only takes a moment to be distracted while you drive, and it can have such devastating impact,” Steven Kiefer said.

Advocates teaming up

The Detroit Regional Chamber, AAA: The Auto Club Group and others have joined with the Kiefer Foundation and say distracted driving is a crisis that undermines the safety for all of us on the roads, which is why they are working to get distracted driving legislation passed.

State Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, teamed up with Reps. Mike Mueller and Joseph Bellino, two Republicans, as they introduced a package of three bills that would make driving while manually holding your phone illegal.

The bills are working their way through the arduous process in Lansing. It is this type of distracted driving (texting, calling on the handset, streaming video, using social media) that would be a primary offense, so police would no longer need to wait for someone to swerve between lanes or anything to pull them over — similar to how seatbelt laws are enforced.

The effort to get distracted driving legislation adopted was unveiled at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in 2019, where Kiefer spoke.

“We are optimistic that success can be achieved,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Chamber. “With a little luck, we will be successful in time to celebrate this win for safety in honor of Mitchel Kiefer in time for the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference (this September).”

Kiefer has told his story hundreds of time as he’s appeared before legislators in Lansing, other states and in Washington, D.C., in an effort to help change laws.

Currently, 24 states have laws prohibiting the use of handheld phones while driving; Kiefer said the foundation was involved in 10 of them. He’s hoping Michigan will join them.

Nearly 40,000 people are killed each year in the U.S. due to car crashes. Approximately 10% of fatal crashes are attributed to distracted driving, a number that some believe is grossly under-reported.

According to 2019 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving crashes resulted in the deaths of 3,142 people — an average of nine people each day. In Michigan, there were 64 fatal crashes, resulting in 71 deaths tied to distracted driving in 2019.

‘Just Drive’

Kiefer is raising the conversation through the foundation’s new “Just Drive” campaign and related ads.

It’s tied to this precarious time of year as the days between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day are most dangerous.

“Traffic fatalities increase 26% during those 100 days,” Kiefer said.

In coming up with a tagline, he wanted to keep it simple: “Like Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ and Nike’s ‘Just Do it,’ ” Kiefer said.

The campaign features 100 pictures of vehicles involved in fatal accidents that a photographer from New York took at a vehicle scrap yard. They are graphic and disturbing.

“The (100 Deadliest Days) boards are meant to look like a movie board — with a key message and statistics provided each day. It’s a story no one wants to live through,” he said.

In recent months, actor Mark Wahlberg and former Red Wings Captain Steve Yzerman— both touched by Kiefer’s campaign — have taken to social media to help support it.

Kiefer will unveil other celebs joining them this week and hopes others, particularly social media influencers who resonate with young drivers who are more at risk, might also step up as well to spread the word.

“It will take all of us working together to keep our roads safe and our families, too,” he added.

*View the original article.

WILS Morning Wake Up with Dave Akerly: Glenn Stevens Jr.

MICHauto Executive Director and Vice President of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives at the Chamber, Glenn Stevens Jr., appeared on the WILS Morning Wake Up with Dave Akerly in Lansing. Glenn discussed the testimony he and MICHauto Board Chair, and Chief Executive Officer for Global Strategic Supply Solutions, Lisa Lunsford provided the Michigan House Workforce Committee on what is driving the labor shortage in our state. Listen to Glenn’s interview here:

Michigan House votes to end $300 federal unemployment benefit


The Detroit News 

By Beth LeBlanc

Lansing — House lawmakers on Thursday voted 60-49 to end a $300 weekly federal unemployment payment that is scheduled to continue through Sept. 6 without state intervention.

In a late afternoon amendment, the GOP-led chamber changed a Democratic-sponsored bill that would have required to Unemployment Insurance Agency to use plain language to communicate with residents to add a provision preventing the agency from working with the federal government — effectively ending the state’s participation in the enhanced unemployment assistance program that started during the pandemic.

“This is exactly why people are frustrated with government today,” said Rep. Lori Stone, the Warren Democrat who sponsored the initial bill. She had her name later removed as sponsor.

“We have a real solution to a real problem today, which is being twisted to suit a partisan agenda.”

But Rep. Pauline Wendzel defended her amendment to the legislation, noting it was appropriate given the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement earlier Thursday that the state’s remaining restrictions on gatherings and masks would be lifted Tuesday.

“Normalcy is finally within our grasp,” said Wendzel, R-Coloma. “…We’re taking steps to remove reentry barriers to the workplace.”

Roughly 25 other states have plans to end their federal unemployment benefits prior to the Sept. 6 cutoff date.

Whitmer’s office has not said whether she is in favor of removing the federal aid, but the Democratic governor proposed Wednesday using the money instead to provide a $300 per week bonus to employees returning to their jobs.

The vote came hours after a Republican House committee chairwoman called on the governor to end the $300 benefit and heard from more than a dozen employers asking for the same at a Thursday morning committee hearing.

Worker shortage

During the more than hour-long hearing, employers from across the state aired their frustrations with the depleted and unpredictable worker supply, with many urging a change to federal unemployment payments.

Some have offered incentives to workers, others cut shifts and still others are looking at opportunities for automation to replace some of the workers they need.

Rep. Beth Griffin, the Mattawan Republican who chairs the Workforce, Trades and Talents Committee, called on Whitmer at Thursday’s hearing to decline the $300 federal unemployment benefits for Michigan as soon as she removes the remaining restrictions on gatherings and masks.

“The message here is that the governor has the ability and the authority and the power to discontinue the federal $300 a week extended benefits anytime,” Griffin said.

Whitmer suggested Wednesday at a press conference that the $300 per week go to employees returning to jobs through Sept. 4 — a benefit currently available only to employees in a workshare program.

“By deploying this critical federal aid, we can set up our state for success and ensure that Michigan’s families, small businesses, and communities emerge stronger than ever from this pandemic,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Employers on Thursday supported changes to the unemployment pay, but argued that might not be enough to combat what they see as short- and long-term impediments to the state’s workforce.

While supply chain issues, COVID fears and unemployment disincentives are temporary challenges post-pandemic, a lack of significant wage growth, few accessible child care options, inadequate skills training and a low labor supply are long-term issues exacerbated by the pandemic, said Todd Cook of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

“As soon as 2030, we will have more deaths than births in the state of Michigan,” Cook said. “Without an increase in migration into the state of workers, that supply is going to continue to shrink and be tough to fill.”

Rep. Terry Sabo, the Muskegon Democrat who serves as vice chairman for the workforce committee, said the idea that the worker shortage is due to unemployment alone doesn’t align with the fact that many workers aren’t taking their full share of weeks of unemployment.

“I know that there are issues in each of your sectors of unemployment, but I don’t think the total blame is on the Michigan worker,” Sabo said, arguing that demographics also played a role. “… We just don’t have enough people to work.”

Michigan’s unemployment rate has decreased steadily since a record high of 22.7% in April 2020 to about 5% in May 2021. But some economists have said the lowered unemployment rate could be a reflection of people leaving the labor force, or the number of people actively looking for a job.

“There are temporary factors that are keeping the labor force down right now,” said Gabriel Ehrlich, an economic forecaster at the University of Michigan.

Those temporary factors include virus fears, increased unemployment payments, barriers to child care and a surge of job openings all at once. But he thinks those factors will begin to work themselves out in late summer and early fall.

“We do expect a lot of those to ease up; my guess would be, come October, we won’t hear as many of those stories,” he said.

But the issues experienced now may be a taste of the chronic issues expected to reach a peak in the next few years: A population failing to keep up with Michigan’s retirement and death rates, and a lower rate of immigration into the state.

“We really do count on international immigration to boost the labor force,” Ehrlich said.

Employers weigh in

In Petoskey, manufacturer Manthei Veneer is operating with 85% of its 290-person staff because of an inability to find workers. The company bought a motel and will house workers from Puerto Rico there to help as summer tourism work stresses the labor market in Northern Michigan, said Jeremy Manthei, president of the company.

“It’s creating an artificial imbalance in the labor market,” Manthei said of the unemployment payment.

“Come September, we’ve got our motel, we’ve our Puerto Rican labor, we’ve got our automation. I can see a situation in Northern Michigan where all of a sudden the summer season ends, all of the service industry jobs go away, and then all of a sudden you’ve got this wave of people looking for work that weren’t looking for work in the summer.”

When Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency reinstated its work search requirement for applicants two weeks ago, applications increased, but the individuals didn’t return calls form the company, Manthei said.

“They’re not legitimate applicants,” he said.

Luke Barber of Barber Packaging expressed similar concerns and worried about the long-term changes the shortage would force.

“We ultimately figure out ways to work around that issue, automate, replace that work,” he said. “And then when the unemployment benefits end and these people want to re-enter the workforce, the jobs aren’t there.”

Employers at assisted living centers, gas stations and restaurants in Metro Detroit, the Upper Peninsula and mid-Michigan related similar experiences.

Glenn Stevens, executive director for MICHAuto, acknowledged that unemployment was heightening worker concerns, but argued there were “pinch points” in the labor situation even before the pandemic, due to the declining birth rate and child care issues. Supply chain issues caused by the pandemic also were causing some slowdowns and production fluctuations.

“This is not a short-term issue,” Stevens said. “We have a responsibility to fix the structural issues that the state has as we look long-term.”

View original article here 

MICHauto Joined XL Fleet in Celebrating Launch of Michigan Fleet Electrification Technology Center

On Wednesday, June 9, MICHauto joined in celebrating the launch of XL Fleet’s Michigan Fleet Electrification Technology Center. MICHauto’s Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr. was in attendance at the grand opening of the center in Wixom, Michigan. MICHauto supported XL Fleet on the facility expansion, as part of their work to expand and grow Michigan’s signature industry.

“MICHauto is very pleased to welcome XL Fleet to the Michigan automotive and technology community,” said Stevens. “XL Fleet has strategically located in the densest cluster of next-generation electrification technology, engineering, and advanced manufacturing in the world. The opportunity to utilize the talent, infrastructure, and quality of life across our state is unique to Michigan, and MICHauto looks forward to working with them to support their company’s growth.“

Read the full press release from XL Fleet.

BOSTON, June 9, 2021 – XL Fleet Corp. (NYSE: XL) (“XL Fleet” or the “Company”), a leader in fleet electrification solutions for commercial and municipal fleets, today celebrated the grand opening of its Fleet Electrification Technology Center in Wixom, MI, with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other legislative leaders of the state in attendance. Governor Whitmer joined XL Fleet CEO Dimitri Kazarinoff, Founder & President Tod Hynes, CTO and VP of Engineering Mike Kenhard, Wixom Mayor Patrick Beagle, and Michigan Economic Development Corporation Executive VP Josh Hundt in a press conference and ribbon cutting ceremony at the new facility. In addition to the ribbon cutting ceremony, Governor Whitmer and XL Fleet executives offered remarks highlighting the importance of expanding the electrification of the commercial fleet industry while XL Fleet showcased its latest hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric drive solutions for popular vehicles from General Motors, Ford and Isuzu.

The formal unveiling of the Fleet Electrification Technology Center, which the Company first announced in March 2021, highlighted XL Fleet’s plans to bring new green transportation jobs to Michigan, contributing to the state’s commitment to sustainability under Governor Whitmer. It was noted during the ceremony that the new facility currently includes 26 full time Michigan employees, including more than one dozen who have been hired since the beginning of 2021. The Company plans to expand its engineering team by 50% in 2021, with more than 50 jobs expected to be added at the facility over the next three years by capitalizing on the location’s strategic access to a wealth of automotive and commercial vehicle engineering talent within the region.

As the Biden administration continues to prioritize and promote the advancement of electric transportation, XL Fleet is positioned to play a valuable role in accelerating the adoption of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, as well as charging infrastructure, energy management and electrification as a service solutions for commercial fleets across the state of Michigan and the United States in the coming years.

As XL Fleet’s fourth U.S. location, the Fleet Electrification Technology Center is a state-of-the-art, nearly 25,000 square foot facility designed to help the Company more rapidly expand its suite of commercial fleet electrification solutions while meeting the growing demand for vehicle electrification throughout North America.

“The grand opening of our Fleet Electrification Technology Center in Michigan marks a milestone for XL Fleet as we expand our footprint into this highly strategic location, positioning us to add capacity to the exceptional talent we already have in-house,” said XL Fleet CEO Dimitri Kazarinoff. “It is an honor to be joined by Governor Whitmer and other officials to help celebrate and inaugurate our first facility located in the country’s top region for automotive engineering innovation.”

XL Fleet Founder & President Tod Hynes added, “XL Fleet continues to reach milestones with our proven and growing product suite, strong strategic partnerships and world-class talent that will be enhanced through our new Michigan Fleet Electrification Technology Center. These milestones put XL Fleet in a unique position to not only capitalize on the industry’s shift to electrification, but to continue to help drive it.”

“This investment by XL Fleet will create nearly 50 good-paying, high-skill jobs and help us continue our economic jumpstart and put Michigan back to work,” said Governor Whitmer. “The new facility reinforces our reputation as the place that put the world on wheels, and a leader in the future of mobility and electrification. We’re excited to welcome XL Fleet to Michigan and look forward to the pathbreaking innovations that will be created right here in our state.”

XL Fleet qualified for a Michigan state incentive of up to $400,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) for the leased facility, a grant designed to encourage expansion into the state among growing businesses. “XL Fleet’s new R&D facility will drive new advancements in future mobility and further demonstrate that Michigan is the place where manufacturing and technology converge,” said MEDC Chief Business Development Officer and Executive Vice President Josh Hundt. “This project aligns with our strategic focus on growing the mobility and electrification ecosystem in Michigan and fostering high-wage job growth. We’re pleased to work with our local partners to support XL Fleet’s investment.”

In addition, XL Fleet worked with MICHauto, the state’s automotive and mobility cluster association, on expanding into the facility. “MICHauto is very pleased to welcome XL Fleet to the Michigan automotive and technology community,” said Glenn Stevens, Executive Director for MICHauto. “XL Fleet has strategically located in the densest cluster of next-generation electrification technology, engineering, and advanced manufacturing in the world. The opportunity to utilize the talent, infrastructure, and quality of life across our state is unique to Michigan, and MICHauto looks forward to working with them to support their company’s growth. “

Press release originally posted on XL Fleet: xlfleet.com/news-and-events/news-releases/xl-fleet-celebrates-michigan-fleet-electrification-technology-center-with-ribbon-cutting-event-featuri

CADIA Connects: Bringing the Majority Along

On Tuesday, June 8, the Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion, and Advancement (CADIA) hosted CADIA Connects. During this unique session, Cheryl Thompson, founder and chief executive officer of CADIA, brought together a panel of executives from across the automotive ecosystem to talk candidly about their DE&I journey and how to bring the majority along. MICHauto’s Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr. joined Laura Ann Preston, global director of talent management for Magna Exteriors, John Major, regional vice president of Midwest Operations at Achates Power, and Andrew Schreck, co-founder of Comprehensive Carbon Impact, in sharing insights with more than 50 participants.

The automotive and mobility industry is making a concerted effort to be more inclusive, something that has been a long time in the making. While each company is at their own place in the journey towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, how do we make sure everyone is included and that the majority is buying in?

Key take-aways from the conversation included:

  • Be thoughtful about your messaging and set up each conversation properly.
  • Admit if you need help on your DE&I journey and start where you are.
  • Cultivate a leadership team that is empathetic.
  • Do your own research.
  • Recognize that DE&I is a journey and not a box to check.

It starts with being thoughtful about our messaging, Preston noted, and never trying to exclude someone in the process. Fear is one element that often holds people back from having the candid conversations that are needed to move DE&I actions forward. There are ways to set the conversation up right at the beginning to ask open questions. You can start with saying, “I’m not going to get this right, but I have a question and am genuinely curious.”

Stevens agreed that to develop a workplace that looks the way the world looks, we have to want to change. This is an inflection point for the automotive and mobility industry, and change is needed. Watching this happen in the industry is astounding, because traditionally the industry has stayed much the same.

“Our world is changing fast,” said Stevens. “If you don’t figure out how to take the upward trajectory on diversity, equity, and inclusion, then you will die. Our industry has the opportunity to grow by being more diverse.”

More than just changing thought processes, Major emphasized the importance of empathy as perhaps one of the most important leadership skills. Noted Major, when you look around a meeting and there is one person of color, take a hard look at what that is like. Really make a personal commitment and challenge yourself to understand what it feels like to be that person. It is about putting yourself aside and cultivating relationships beyond your sphere of comfort.

Added Schreck, there is also an important consideration for the psychological toll it takes on people who are asked questions about their unique cultures and ethnicities. He recommends doing some research on your own. With the vast number of resources available and content on social media, it can be easy to educate yourself on some of the challenges in the workplace to improve your own understanding.

In conclusion, Thompson reflected that this industry is really good at getting in, getting it done, and moving on.

“You can’t do this with diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s not a destination. It’s a journey,” said Thompson.

New Chamber Poll Provides Key Insights On Automobility Industry Labor Shortage

The Detroit Regional Chamber released findings from a new statewide poll of registered voters in Michigan that provides insight and data on how Michiganders have reacted to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the ongoing public health and economic challenges, and critical political issues facing the state. The findings of the poll addressed the ongoing labor shortage in Michigan’s signature automotive and mobility industries.

What’s Causing the Ongoing Labor Shortage

Michigan businesses, including those in the automotive and mobility sectors, report significant staffing challenges as the economic recovery accelerates. In Feb. 2020, unemployment as at 3.5% in Michigan, and labor force participation was at 61.6%. Unemployment is now at 4.9% (better than the national average of 6.1%), but the labor force participation is at 58.7%, which places Michigan at a troubling 42nd in the nation.

Many businesses automatically point to the generous unemployment benefits as the reason. While the survey finds this is likely a contributing factor, it appears to be less of a factor than some may think. Respondents gave multiple reasons for the continued barriers to finding employment.

  • 22.9% said they did not feel safe or cited COVID-19 safety.
  • 14.3% said it was a lack of good pay or benefits.
  • 11.4% cited their age or health.
  • 11.4% said they have not yet been called back to old jobs.
  • 8.6% cited general problems in finding open positions.
  • 8.6% cited the need for child care.
  • 17.1% did not have an answer.



In a mini focus group of poll participants who were employed before COVID-19, but are now out of work, only one in 15 respondents cited unemployment benefits as the reason for not returning to work. The Chamber survey found that 22.2% of those employed before COVID-19, but who were no longer looking for a job were over the age of 50 (13.6% 65 years or older). This tracks with data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis that shows labor force participation of workers over the age of 55 has fallen 2% since the start of the pandemic, resulting in two million fewer workers nationwide.

This decline is a new trend in labor force participation and did not happen during the 2008 Great Recession. In fact, from the end of 2007 to the end of 2009, there was a 1% increase in workers over the age of 55. This trend has a particularly harmful impact on the mobility industry, where National Association of Manufacturers’ data showed that nearly one and four manufacturing workers are age 55 or older before the pandemic.

Finding Workers Now and Solving the Labor Shortage

Companies nationwide are attracting skilled workers through retention incentives that include flex schedules, paid vacation time, family events, shift work, and competitive pay. However, in a highly competitive labor market, these incentives are only part of the solution. The Chamber and MICHauto have been advocating state leaders to adopt our 100K By Labor Day Back to Work plan, which would use federal stimulus dollars to incentivize unemployed workers to find a job and help employees with training and vaccination incentives.

Attracting workers this year is a critical first step to ensure that Michigan’s economic recovery is sustainable. However, to secure long-term competitiveness in the global marketplace, our state needs to address the education and skills gap. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) estimates that 75% of the jobs of the future will require a post-secondary degree. However, only 48.6% of Michigan adults currently have a two-year, four-year, or professional certificate. Employers have a significant role to play in helping to close that gap through high school apprenticeship programs, supporting fast-track training programs at local community and technical colleges and on-the-job training programs.

With the industry’s long-term future in mind, MICHauto was proud to partner with the Jackson Area Manufacturing Association to announce Michigan’s first Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program. The FAME program provides students a two-year, debt-free Associate degree to equip students with the skills required for the rapidly evolving manufacturing industry.

Solving the state’s labor shortage requires a nuanced understanding of the causes and a commitment from political and business leaders to invest in talent attraction.

Emerging Automotive Professional: Toyota’s Vanessa Antar

Connect with Vanessa on LinkedIn. 

Getting into Automotive 

What inspired you to go into the automotive and mobility field?  

After completing two internships/co-op terms with Toyota I knew right away I wanted to be in research and development (R&D) at Toyota. My second co-op term exposed me to the world of design, and I could not wait to graduate so I could dive right in.

Did you grow up with family members in the automotive industry?  

Growing up, I was always surrounded by my uncles who have a huge passion for cars, but I had no idea back then that this was the industry I was going to end up in. I honestly didn’t know until I tried it. This is why I highly recommend getting internship opportunities as soon as possible so you can get a feel for the kind of work you would be doing after graduating.

Growing up, what was your impression of the automotive industry? How would you have described the industry? 

I grew up outside of the U.S., so I had a completely different image of the automotive industry. At the time, it felt like such an unattainable world and I didn’t even think I would be able to make it there. My country didn’t have automotive opportunities, so it was honestly not on my horizon until I got into college in the U.S.

What college did you attend, what was your major, and why did you choose that path?   

I attended the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago where I majored in mechanical engineering. I always loved math and physics growing up so becoming an engineer was a no brainer to me when I was applying for college. I then went through the process of elimination when it came to which kind of engineering I wanted to study. I decided to go with mechanical engineering due to the broad scope. You can really end up in any industry you want which is great for someone who didn’t have a clear image of what she wanted to do after graduation. I didn’t know I was going to end up in automotive until I did my first co-op/internship at Toyota which was a huge turning point during my undergraduate time.

Automotive Career: Then and Now 

What opportunities did you have in college that allowed you to explore or start your career in automotive, including any co-ops or internships?  

In college, I was very involved in organizations like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where I had the opportunity to attend conferences that hosted career fairs. Through networking and career fairs I was able to land my first internship/co-op at Toyota and kick start my automotive career. My university’s career fairs didn’t have a lot of companies looking for mechanical engineers so attending these big conference career fairs had a huge impact on my career.

What is your role now? 

I am a design engineer at Toyota in the Body Design division in the Research and Development Headquarters in Michigan. I’ve been in body design for six years now.

What projects and programs do you work on? 

I’ve been designing and engineering parts and sub-assemblies for upcoming vehicles. For example, if you look at recent Tacoma, you will see the radiator grilles that I designed (this was my first project). I now work on the body of the trucks, which is the structure that protects occupants during vehicle crashes.

Describe a typical day.  

There’s no typical day for me but I will say working on a project in design is a two-to-three-year commitment. Our responsibility is to take styling data prepared by our design studio and turn it into an engineered sub-system of parts. We start our design work by gathering all the inputs and targets we need to incorporate. We then go through iterations of feedback from all stakeholders and keep evolving our design until we reach production-level data that satisfies all requirements from every stakeholder. Once parts go into production, we go through multiple vehicle builds where everything comes together on actual vehicles. This phase is very important to confirm all design intents and quickly resolve any issues that come up before the vehicle goes into mass production. Working with so many hardworking, dedicated, and smart people from all different divisions is one of the best parts of my job. We are all working together as one team with one goal which is to provide the customer the best product possible. I’m always in awe of what it takes to design and build a car.

This entire design process requires many skills on daily basis, including:

  • Maintaining good communication skills and being proactive about resolving issues to make sure we meet all necessary targets by the set deadlines.
  • Collaborating with many other groups (other design groups, evaluation groups for safety/crash testing, suppliers, manufacturing, etc.).
  • Reporting engineering and technical issues to upper management to get decisions and agreement on certain directions (here is where you can work on your presentation, public speaking, and communication skills).
  • Working in design also requires a lot of computer aided design (CAD) work from making section studies and 3D data to technical drawings.

All these skills can be learned through project experience but are at the core of every design job.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  

I love growing my technical skills and design capabilities but in five years I want to be more on the project management side.

Advice for Young Students 

Knowing what you know now, if you could give your younger self one tip or piece of advice, what would it be?  

It’s okay for work to be your number one priority, but don’t forget to live your life and make time for the important people in your life.

What advice do you have for high school students who are interested in automotive, but unsure if it’s the career for them? 

If possible, try to shadow an engineer at an automotive company or at least set up a virtual meet up. Ask as many questions as possible and be curious (there’s no right or wrong question)! If you don’t know where to start, listen to the engineer’s story and details about their careers.

There are so many different jobs you can have in automotive so getting internships throughout your time in college is very important to help you understand if that environment is a good fit for you. I had the amazing opportunity of hosting a high school student who was interested in automotive but wasn’t 100% sure if it was the right fit for her. We got to spend a day talking all about design and what it’s like to be an engineer in automotive. She is now a sophomore pursuing her degree in mechanical engineering and will be looking for opportunities in automotive.

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?  

I’ve been given MANY but here are the best:

  • Think of your career as a marathon, not a race.
  • To be successful you need to be like the “energizer bunny” because you will fail at times, but you will bounce back.
  • There are two main currencies that will drive your career: your performance and your relationships and connections.
  • Innovation isn’t always creating something brand new. It’s about applying something that already exists in a brand-new way.
  • Don’t communicate to inform, communicate to influence.

What do you love about working in the automotive industry (and specifically the automotive industry in Michigan)?  

What I love the most is how rewarding it feels to see your designs on actual vehicles on the road. Every vehicle that I worked on that leaves the dealership will have a bunch of parts that I designed. This makes all the hard work and long hours worth it! I also feel very proud to be a female in a male-dominated industry and would love to encourage more girls to pursue careers in STEM and join me on this journey.

Do you participate in any organizations outside of work? Or have any hobbies (unrelated to automotive)? Do you feel the work-life balance in the auto industry allows you to continue these passions?  

I have many hobbies and interests outside of work like powerlifting, being a plant mom, traveling, brewing craft coffee, and all things fashion. Work is currently my number one priority, and the hours tend to be long especially around deadlines, however, this teaches me to appreciate the down time I have. It’s important to make time for our hobbies because work doesn’t end. There’s always more work that we can be doing but in order to produce our best output it’s on us to set those boundaries and tend to the things we care about outside of work and create some sort of balance.

Someone I look up to at work once told me we have three main things we give our energy to: work, relationships (parents, family, partners, etc.), and ourselves. We can only focus on two of these three at a time, so one of them will fall behind. This balance needs to shift based on current priorities and what needs more of our time versus what can be placed on hold for a bit.