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Automotive Leaders: Apprenticeships, Shifting Perceptions Key to Filling Talent Pipeline

Attracting the next generation of talented workers for the automotive industry requires changing perceptions among parents and school counselors and creating awareness and excitement for manufacturing among younger students, industry leaders said during an “Industry and Education” roundtable at the Detroit Regional Chamber hosted by MICHauto and University Research Corridor.

“There is a challenge with parents that say, ‘I don’t want my kids going into auto,” said Mark Brucki, executive director of corporate community partnerships at Lawrence Technological University.

High school counselors, Brucki said, are also increasingly underutilized and overworked. As a result, career opportunities in the automotive industry or the skilled trades are sometimes not discussed as viable options for students.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” he said. “Our challenge as an industry is to figure out how to make manufacturing ‘sexy.’”

Kevin Kerrigan, senior vice president of automotive at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said one way to stop talent from leaving is to offer more apprenticeship opportunities. He also acknowledged that more work is needed to refine the state’s Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) program in order to encourage participation from companies. MAT2 targets graduating high school students and students currently enrolled in community colleges or universities with practical work experience while they attend school. Through the three-year program, colleges and businesses partner to train students in electrical, mechanical and electronic competencies.

Roundtable participants agreed that investing in internships and apprenticeships can entice some students. As demand increases for skilled workers however, the ROI is often lost to companies that can attract talent with large salaries and lucrative benefits.

The discussion also focused on efforts to improve college curriculum and certification programs to better align with the industry’s needs, as well as collaboration to educate students on where to go to get the proper training employers often look for when hiring.

“I don’t see a connected vehicle major,” said Dawn Thompson of P3 North America.

“Students with an interest in the industry do not know where to go for training and they shouldn’t have to work that hard to find out,” Thompson said, adding that today’s vehicles require expertise in several disciplines.

The roundtable featured representatives from over 15 Southeast Michigan suppliers, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., University of Michigan, Washtenaw Community College and Wayne State University.