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Panel: Shaping Talent and Workforce Development on the Road to Electrification

Anne Pentika, talent development liaison at the State of Michigan, Ben Cruz, director of the Center for Advanced Automotive Technology at Macomb Community College, and Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto, gathered at the 2022 North American International Auto Show to discuss Michigan’s evolving workforce development needs on a panel hosted by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

The Need to Dual Skill the Workforce

The panel’s moderator, Brett Smith, director of technology at CAR, opened the conversation by asking where the region currently stands in the transition into a high-skilled, electrified workforce.

Stevens answered, “the fact is, there is a lot being done, but we are a long way from where we need to be.” He is encouraged that there are plenty of resources and organizations focused on solving the problem but emphasized that the key to success will be ensuring they all remain on the same page.

Pentika shared that the state is looking at developing a workforce with dual skillsets because while we still need skills in maintaining ICE technology that already exists, the industry is moving forward into high-tech and electrified innovation. Therefore, partnering with educational institutions to upskill or reskill employees into other opportunities will become increasingly necessary.

Cruz confirmed that ICE technology will eventually fade out, but that it will remain relevant for many years to come. To address this, Macomb Community College developed a certificate program that can be completed on its own or added to a larger automotive technology course and give students the new skills employers are seeking.

Collaboration is Key

Another initiative striving to address the state’s workforce development needs is the EV Jobs Academy, in which MICHauto, the State of Michigan, and Macomb Community College all participate. According to Pentika, the program led by the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA), the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN), and the Michigan Alliance for Greater Mobility Advancement (MAGMA) “puts employers in the driver’s seat in building talent pipelines into the mobility and EV industries.”

“By forming this collaborative, we’ve got the state, employers, and educational providers all talking so we can co-develop some of the curriculum that you need in order to train the technicians,” said Cruz.

Smith directed his next question to Stevens, inquiring how he manages to focus and connect large partnerships such as this in a way that moves the initiative forward. Stevens highlighted several similar projects in the area that have recently received funding, saying that MICHauto is convening those entities to create synergy and ensure no duplication in their efforts.

How do companies, especially smaller ones with fewer resources, take advantage of the change and opportunity abounding in the industry?

“The state has an opportunity to find better ways to communicate how they get involved,” said Stevens, “there’s a lot of money available that companies on the smaller end don’t know how to access.”

“They can accomplish so much more when harnessing the power of collaboration,” Pentika agreed.

Changing the Perception of the Industry

“At the end of the day, the industry is solving global issues, not contributing to them,” said Stevens when asked what will attract talent to work in Michigan. For those interested in being part of the solution, companies like General Motors, which has a “zero, zero, zero” mantra regarding emissions, could be a good fit.

The industry is also much more stable, disciplined, and future-focused than in 2008. Factories are cleaner and safer, too. Cruz pointed out that skilled-trades jobs also have the potential to pay as well as engineering jobs.

Pentika likened the Auto Show to the MiCareerQuest program, which hosts events where students are introduced to “things they can move, touch, and see in action.” She expressed that hands-on experience will be critical in changing the industry’s perception and getting families, communities, schools, and educators moving in the same direction.

The Intersection of the Production and IT workforces

As the industry transitions from ICE to BEV, factory production staff will need to gain IT skills, and experienced IT staff will need to become familiar with factories to effectively develop and implement their technological needs. With an abundance of vehicle product development companies, Michigan’s industry requires new skills faster than the rest of the nation.

To address this, Cruz said that at Macomb Community College, “we are trying to blend skills from those different siloes, because the universities and colleges teach mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and IT, but never the three shall meet.”

Stevens added, “if we’re not from the factory, to the design, to all the industries, looking at the digital proficiency of our citizens here in Michigan, we’re going to have a problem,” because according to the Brookings Institution, almost every job will require an increase in digital proficiency moving forward.

Adapting and Learning Quickly is the Most Important Skill

Smith offered the team at CAR has spent decades questioning if it’s more important for the education system to teach students how to learn or teach them the hard skills for a job site. Cruz answered that with one or two years between major innovations, it’s difficult to predict the future, so individuals who can adapt and adopt new technologies quickly will have the most success.

Stevens offered that Michigan itself must also adapt quickly by making Michigan a strong place to live, work, and play to attract remote high-tech talent that can work from anywhere and give talent that is already present the opportunity to remain.