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Securing the Future of Automotive Tech: New Talent Attraction and Retention

On Nov. 18, Carolyn Sauer, senior director of MICHauto, took the stage during Automotive Tech Week to lead a conversation on Securing the Future of Automotive Tech. The panel discussion brought together experts from the automotive industry, state government, and education sector, to highlight the action that is needed to fill the automotive and mobility talent pipeline for sustainable growth and innovation. Panelists included:

  • Britany Affolter-Caine, Executive Director, University Research Corridor
  • Ryan Hundt, Chief Executive Officer, Michigan Works! Association
  • Ronia Kruse, President and Chief Executive Officer, OpTech
  • Joerg Weisgerber, Chief Executive Officer, HELLA

In opening remarks, Sauer touched on the substantial talent crisis with which the automotive and mobility industry is contending across the state of Michigan. There is a lack of workers to fill open positions and a shortage of workers with the “right” skills to fill the growing number of high-tech jobs.

While the talent shortage isn’t new, Sauer noted that it’s a topic that desperately needs a solution. In fact, in September Forbes reported that 54% of companies globally cannot find the talent they need, while The Wall Street Journal stated that 4.3 million workers have disappeared from the workforce.

Panelists highlighted the factors that have compounded the shortage, including:

  • Attraction to the industry is still impacted by perception, requiring the industry to be consistently branded as high-tech, growing, global, and inclusive.
  • Basic needs like child care, transportation, and housing make it difficult for people to get to work, leading to programs like Going PRO, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Extended competition with tech companies that offer jobs to students earlier in the pipeline.

In addition to industry-wide campaigns and state programs, employers are turning to more creative approaches to recruitment. Weisgerber highlighted two areas where HELLA is reaching back into the pipeline to secure talent, now and into the future: (1) HELLA Scholars, a program that secures high school graduates as interns during their four years of college in exchange for tuition reimbursement and the likelihood of full-time employment upon graduation; (2) working with students at an Inkster elementary school to get students engaged and excited about robotics earlier in their education.

While programs like HELLA Scholars have been successful, more needs to be done to support the industry. Panelists noted the need for action to continue to build Michigan’s talent pipeline in automotive and mobility tech. Short-term solutions can be implemented in the industry, but longer-term solutions will require funding at the state-level to widen the pipeline of young talent, by engaging students as young as kindergarten in STEM and STEAM programs. All panelists agreed that with funding opportunities ahead, the industry, educational sector, and state need to be in the same room to develop a collective solution. And, most importantly, all agreed that there must be less talk and more action.