Print Friendly and PDF

Training Michigan’s Future Workforce: With Disruption Comes Opportunity

By Kristin Bull

For Michigan’s workforce to keep pace with the evolution of advances in automation and technology, leaders of business, education, philanthropy and public policy must collaborate — and that collaboration must be long-term. That was the consensus of a panel of experts who discussed Wednesday how to best align the state’s industry and workforce needs. The panel, “Training for the Future: Aligning Michigan’s Industry and Workforce Needs,” kicked off the first day of the 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference, and endeavored to answer the question at the heart of one of the three Conference pillars: Is Michigan Prepared?

Panelists agreed that more preparation is needed. But they also agreed that although the future of Michigan’s automated workforce is uncertain, it is not necessarily scary.

“There’s never been more disruption in automotive in general,” said Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research. “Everything is changing — every part of the supply chain today will be disrupted. But every time there is disruption, there has been opportunity.”

In the next 12 years, one-third of Michigan jobs will see 70 percent of tasks change because of automation, said Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. But that change doesn’t automatically mean workers will be displaced.

“I think the task before us is to teach the stuff that machines can’t do,” said Muro, an expert on regional technology ecosystems and economic development.

These skills are inherently interpersonal: communication, persuasion, teamwork and project management.

Muro and Bailo, along with Dan Varner, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, said these soft skills need to be a focus of long-term collaboration and partnerships.

Key Takeaways:

  • Technology and automation do not necessarily lead to job displacement. It can, instead, be an enabler. For example, workers with augmented reality glasses can view real-time assembly instructions.
  • Has the pendulum swung too far to favor four-year degrees over skilled trades training? Not necessarily, panelists said. “We do ourselves a disservice when we pit post-secondary folks against CTE (career technical education) folks,” Varner said. “We’re on the cusp of doing that now. Neither side wins fighting the other. Ultimately we need more training for everyone.”
  • Aligning Michigan’s industry and workforce needs must begin long before kids ever decide between community college or a four-year degree. “We need to be in elementary schools talking about what’s going on in automation,” Bailo said.
  • Workforce training challenges are especially prevalent in underserved populations. Often, those challenges aren’t related to the jobs themselves, but speak to the need for wraparound services, such as transportation. “Part of what’s necessary to help students succeed happens outside of school,” Varner said.
  • In the future, workforce training will be long-term. Machines, for instance, will need programming updates; they will need constant maintenance.
  • Hard skills can be replaceable; soft skills cannot.
  • Retirees offer a unique training and mentoring tool that businesses need to consider embracing. “We are one of the few societies on Earth that doesn’t value its retirees,” Bailo said.

The session was hosted by the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation and moderated by Foundation President and CEO Dave Egner.

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio as part of a collaborative partnership with the Detroit Regional Chamber for the 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference.