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Collaboration, Talent Attraction Survival Keys for Michigan’s Automotive Industry

From driverless technology to big data, artificial intelligence and company culture, the automotive industry is being disrupted like never before, and companies will only survive if they shed their insular approaches to thinking and operating. A major component of that involves creating new business models that stress more diversity of thought, innovation, and embrace risk and failure.

During the Automotive Roundtable: Four Forces of Impact hosted by MICHauto on May 30, industry leaders doubled down on the urgency to attract, retain and grow Michigan’s talent pool to meet the needs of automotive and mobility companies today and in the future.

“This is both the most exciting and the scariest time to be in the industry,” said Rick Popp, director of human resources for Ford Motor Company North America.

Popp said traditional company policies are preventing the industry from attracting and retaining the talent needed to innovate. Meanwhile technology companies and startups are drawing away a wealth of engineers, technologists and data scientists from Michigan. Automakers must learn to develop talent in unconventional ways or face a distinct competitive disadvantage, he said.

“One of the things we’re experimenting with at Ford is hiring more individuals who are autistic but have an affinity for STEM skills and giving them the opportunity to shine,” he said.

Following his remarks, a panel featuring Adam Kramer, executive vice president of strategy for Switch; Ronia Kruse, CEO and co-founder of OpTech; Jeff Makarewicz, group vice president of Vehicle, Quality and Safety Engineering for Toyota Motor North America; and Chris Thomas, founder and partner of Fontinalis Partners, shared their insight on the industry’s disruption.

Key takeaways:

  • Today’s employees are expected to be problem solvers, with the ability to work in collaborative settings but they also want a level of autonomy.
  • To attract talent, companies must begin to incorporate what drives employees outside of work into their job structure and enable flexibility.
  • Michigan is leading in the mobility race but needs to do more to (a) keep traditional automotive companies and talent in the state (b) increase testing on roads (c) educate and increase public acceptance of autonomous vehicles (d) cultivate a startup culture.
  • Michigan is a pipeline for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) talent.
  • The demand for talent is only going to grow in the next five years and decreasing barriers to international talent attraction will play a significant role.
  • Competition is important but the automotive and mobility industry’s survival is incumbent upon a willingness to share best practices.
  • Colocation maximizes productivity and catalyzes innovation for the rapidly changing world.

The roundtable was sponsored by KPMG and supporting sponsors Denso, GS3 and Switch.