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Going Virtual: Discover Auto Pivoting Career Exploration Amid Pandemic

By James Martinez

The impact of COVID-19 on the automotive talent pipeline will not be known for years, but there is a push to limit the disruption in recruiting the next generation of innovators and professionals.

MICHauto’s Discover Auto series has moved to a virtual format to continue to expose middle and high school students to exciting careers in the automotive industry. The virtual tours of automotive facilities and mobility centers provide students access to the industry, its technology, and the exciting career choices available.

“Detroit’s ability to maintain its leadership in next-generation mobility will come down to talent,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto and the Detroit Regional Chamber’s vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives. “We need to continue stimulating interest in the industry as students think about their options after high school. Pivoting to a virtual platform allows OEMs and suppliers to still show off the technology going into today’s vehicles.”

In its virtual format, a tour lasts approximately one hour and includes a brief pre-recorded classroom style introduction with presentations from professionals across the companies, followed by a live Q & A.

“We need the kids interested in STEM to understand that anything they can dream up technologically speaking, probably has an application in next-generation mobility,” said Jenny Orletski-Dehne, coordinator of MICHauto. “But beyond STEM, there are so many opportunities to do work that matters. This industry is packed with good career pathways in legal, marketing, supply chain, international relations, and policy.”

In conducting the Chamber program, MICHauto partners with Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit that provides transformative learning experiences for Pre-K-12 students across the country. MICHauto coordinates with host companies on programming and coordinates the logistics of recording the presentations. Project Lead the Way acts as a liaison to the schools.

The Discover Auto tours go hand in hand with efforts to better brand and position the industry as a career path.

“We see it again and again. Students light up when they see the technology, engineering, and R & D that goes into today’s vehicles,” said Stevens. “And when we take them to a facility near their school and they realize the level of innovation occurring in their own backyard, they are blown away.”

Student survey results show a dramatic shift in perceptions following a tour.

After visiting HELLA, one of the world’s leading automotive suppliers for radar, lighting, and electronic systems, one student wrote: “I have ambitions to become an engineer, but the automotive industry never sparked my interest. However, my visit to HELLA made me a lot more open-minded about the industry. •

James Martinez is a freelance writer and content creation consultant in Metro Detroit.