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MICHauto Annual Briefing Brings Together Industry Leaders To Talk High-tech Talent

On June 22, MICHauto hosted its Annual Briefing on the scenic 16th floor of One Campus Martius. A group of industry leaders convened to discuss the need for cross-sector collaboration among business, education, and government in order to grow Michigan’s high-tech talent base. Among them were Charlie Ackerman, senior vice president of human resources at BOSCH North America, and Quentin Messer Jr., chief executive officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, (MEDC), and president and chair of the Michigan Strategic Fund.

The event also featured a panel, moderated by MICHauto Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr., and included:

  • Brian Burke, Vice President of Sales, Multimatic
  • Dennis Livesay, Dean, College of Computing, Michigan Technological University
  • Roshni Shokar, Startup and Entrepreneur Engagement, Michigan Central
  • JaCinda Sumara, Director, Career Technical Education and Early Middle College, William D. Ford Career Tech Center, Wayne-Westland Community Schools

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STEVENS: MICHauto Positioning Michigan as a Tech Hub

Stevens began by highlighting Oracle’s April 2021 announcement of plans to build an 8,500-person high-tech digital campus in downtown Nashville. The reason they chose to make such a large investment in the city was the growing concentration of high-tech talent. In similar news close to home, General Motors announced plans in January 2022 to open a new battery plant and upgrade the Lake Orion manufacturing plant.

Just a few days after this announcement, GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra posted on LinkedIn that GM would be hiring 8,000 new high-tech roles to support the expansion. Stevens emphasized that because these high-tech workers can work from anywhere, “it’s incumbent upon us that as many as possible work here in Michigan.”

“The talent, the supply chain, policy – so many different things are going to change because of this industry’s transition,” he said.

One of the parts of a vehicle that is changing the most rapidly and driving this transition is the computer, which will compose 50% of a vehicle’s cost by 2030. This advancement is accompanied by a change in desired employee skillsets. He asked, “what are organizations, companies, and educational institutions doing to prepare our digital workforce?”

“Positioning Michigan as a tech hub is extremely important,” said Stevens, because other states and regions want a piece of this kind of economic development as well. Michigan’s neighbors in Ontario have already evolved their approach to talent attraction by branding and positioning their tech hub as “The Corridor.” Ohio has also launched a successful initiative called OhioX whose mission is to build the state as a tech hub.

“If you look at the reasons why Intel is located in Columbus, a very large part of it is because universities, community colleges, and educational institutions banded together to make sure the tech support was going to be there for that facility,” said Stevens.

To set the stage for the rest of the conversation, MICHauto has worked to create continuity around tech and talent development in Michigan through advocacy, convening power, and next-generation mobility. In its talent advocacy, MICHauto has been focused on:

  • The CEO Coalition for Change: An industry diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative.
  • The MICHauto Innovator Xchange: An immediate access point for startups and technology companies through direct engagement with OEMs, suppliers, and other consumers of innovation.
  • Discover Auto, Michigan High-tech Talent Initiative, and Let’s Detroit: Programs designed to create a robust talent pipeline.

There is much to look forward to, but we have to be realistic that our workforce is mature, we are 31st in the country in educational attainment and 49th in our career counselor-to-student ratio. Businesses are relying on the state to address these factors because they need high-tech talent in order to be competitive.

Ackerman: Building Bridges to Support the Talent Pipeline

Charlie Ackerman is concerned that he doesn’t have the sustainability for bringing talent to Michigan that he needs, saying, “80% of what we’re looking for we don’t have.”

As the industry transitions into battery electric vehicle production, the need for talent will continue to increase, comprising one-third of the industry by 2030. While job vacancies grow as the Great Resignation continues, applicants with desirable software engineering, coding, system architecture, and system design skills remain sparse.

Ackerman believes this “war for talent” is of even greater concern for the automotive and mobility industry than the recent semiconductor chip shortage. He said that while traditional supply chain shortages like this can last between 3-6 months, the timeline for talent production is much longer at 12-14 years.

“The automotive and mobility industry needs more talent than Michigan is developing right now,” said Ackerman.

Ackerman asked attendees to envision the talent pipeline as a bridge on which one end are students and on the other are employers. To shepherd students from one side to the other, educators need to provide them with valuable STEM skills to help them enter the high-tech workforce. With only 15% of higher education students in Michigan currently studying a STEM curriculum, it will be an uphill battle.

Ackerman suggested that the solution will be bringing industry, education, and government together at every opportunity to collaborate. He said that the industry can participate by opening its doors to teachers, students, and other education staff to expose them to what it’s really like to work at their facilities. Industry must get on the bridge with education and guide them across to shorten the distance and speed up the process.

Michigan has a clear and present challenge, but Ackerman outlined this recipe for success:

  1. Believe in a purpose that’s bigger than one person can do alone
  2. Believe in others
  3. Truly believe that you can

Messer: Michiganders Are Obsessed with Winning

Quentin Messer Jr., an avid sports fan, called out Michiganders and their obsession with winning. With many successful sports teams both at the university and professional levels, Michigan boasts a rich tradition of championship. He argued that our winning streak isn’t exclusive to sports and that “all of the elements are here to build a championship economy,” so long as we keep our foot on the gas.

With one-fifth of Michigan jobs belonging to the automotive and mobility industry and 96 of the top 100 automotive suppliers operating within the state according to the latest Michigan Is Automobility report, the next 18-20 months of investment in Michigan will be key in deciding our fate for the next 20 years. National and global competition is becoming intense, Messer said, so “we must make sure that we win so we can sustain what has been part of Michigan for generations.”

Messer proposed that the number one asset in any industry is the people, and that economic development only matters to the extent that it transforms the lives of those living in Michigan. Further, he asked if the industry is “ready to accept the talent” needed during the EV transition.

“If we are going to continue to win, it’s only because we won in the first place. Talent, problem-solving, [and] ingenuity. And that’s what we still have in spades,” he said, “Add to work ethic [and] sense of humility. I like our chances, but it’s not going to happen accidentally. It’s going to require intentional engagement by each and every one of us.”

Messer warned that if Michigan doesn’t address the concerns of industry leaders like Ackerman, we risk losing them to global competition. In response, MEDC has formed the Talent Action Team, whose objectives are to:

  • Provide employers with the opportunity to reskill employees
  • Create a rapid and more diverse pipeline of talent
  • Prepare the market to anticipate talent needs
  • Make Michigan a lighthouse for talent attraction, development, and retention

Through these actions, the Talent Action Team will:

  • Future-proof Michiganders: COVID-19 showed us that many industries are vulnerable to tech changes. We need to cultivate lifelong learners to adapt
  • Develop the best pools of talent
  • Foster the most competitive auto ecosystem in the nation
  • Deploy the best recruitment and investment strategy with Michigan as a talent hub
  • Construct a defensive moat to ensure those who know us stay and reinvest
  • Provide a blueprint for sustainable growth

Although there is hard work ahead of us, there are three things we can use to guide us:

  1. When we come together, we can provide and create remarkable things quickly
  2. We must believe in and be ambassadors for Michiganow are we framing the narrative about our great state?
  3. Ensure that we engage young people and the young-at-heart to embrace lifelong learning and innovation

PANEL: Bringing Together Business, Education, and Government

Experts participated in a discussion about the cross-sector collaboration between business, education, and government to grow Michigan’s high-tech talent base and how the industry can engage in the efforts underway.

From Burke’s perspective as a business leader, early engagement with talent is key. If businesses want a talent pool with specific skills, they will need to expose students to careers in autonomous driving and electrification while they’re still in school. Livesay agreed, suggesting that businesses can increase interest in their specific companies among higher education students by offering opportunities to work for them while still in school. This is why K-12 also belongs at the table, offered Sumara. Her school district has already begun redesigning the high school curriculum to foster talent in STEM and allows students to use their senior year to work at an industry partner instead of taking classes.

“Schools have been at the centers of community for a really long time,” said Sumara, “We have been learning from watching things that have been happening in our area. We’re creating more unique spaces, whereas it used to be the football fields where the community came together, we’re modeling what we’re learning from industry and opening innovation centers in all of our elementaries.”

In an update on Michigan Central Station, Shokar said that they are creating a destination for start-up businesses to collaborate and work with established companies to build the future of mobility.

“These big problems we’re facing can’t be solved by one company alone,” said Shokar. “They need collaboration and partnerships.”

Her team is focused on attracting this talent through a strategic placemaking initiative that will connect the Corktown and Southwest neighborhoods and communities, creating a desirable place to live, work, and play. Livesay echoed the importance of community-building in retaining talent, noting that Michigan Technological University alumni often stay close to the university after graduating because of the close-knit ties they formed while attending.

Another way to attract and retain talent in Michigan is simply by being “our own best cheerleaders,” shared Burke. He also noted that younger people value experiences more than material goods and that Michigan has a deal that’s hard to beat when it comes to that. Livesay added, “while we know why we love it here, we all need to be louder about why others would love it too.”