With Michigan’s manufacturing workforce aging, the state lagging behind competitors in population growth and educational attainment, the state could face a talent crisis in the decades ahead as competition increases for its signature automotive industry.
There is no silver bullet to ensure the Detroit region secures the high-tech talent it needs to drive future innovation and maintain its automotive leadership. It’s going to take a multi-faceted approach across the public and private sectors with academia and business working together in new ways.
The Detroiter and MICHauto asked thought-leaders working in education or talent related fields to opine on the key steps Michigan needs to take to secure its innovative future and businesses need to address their talent issues.
Step 1 – Fix Our Leaky Talent Pipeline
Greg Handel, Vice President, Education and Talent, Detroit Regional Chamber
Too many students leave our educational system before earning a postsecondary credential, a pre-pandemic trend that’s only getting worse. That’s why achieving the Chamber’s regional goal of 60% postsecondary educational attainment by 2030 is so critical. As the demands of the workforce continue to evolve and new high-tech career paths unfold, a focus on credentials of value is underway to help elevate the region’s labor market opportunities. However, more partnerships between industry and education are needed to identify future credential needs and we must replicate national best-practices to improve graduation rates, particularly for underserved student populations, as we work together to patch our leaky talent pipeline.
Step 2 – Invest in Schools to Help Students Pursue High-Tech Talent
JaCinda Sumara, Director, Career Technical Education and Early College, Wayne-Westland Community Schools
Roles traditionally known for supporting students with career guidance, such as school counselor, are at a critical state. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student to school counselor ratio of 250:1. Nationally, the ratio is 415:1, and in Michigan, 638:1. The answer to improve support to students with career planning — hire more counselors and engage all education professionals in career guidance.
In response, school districts are designing new models to make students career ready. Career Focused Advisory Committees are reimagining a more holistic approach to educating students about their choices for the future. Membership consists of school administrators, teachers, counselors, support staff, parents, students, and industry professionals. Business should reach out to a local school district to learn how to get involved in the school-to-work redesign and help guide students toward high-tech careers.
Step 3 – Support Childcare as Critical Infrastructure for Michigan Workforce
Deeana Ahmed, Vice President, Strategy and Government Affairs, Our Next Energy
Michigan’s workforce is in a unique position to be at the forefront of the climate tech revolution as the U.S. onshores EV manufacturing. Women are incredibly valuable to growing this industry, but since 2020, over 130,000 across the state have left the workforce due to childcare. On average, childcare is over $10,000 per child per year in metro Detroit, a barrier that keeps many women at home. For Michigan to lead in the green industrial revolution, we need to offer wraparound services as employers, in partnership with the state, to drive equitable workforce development, starting with childcare.
Step 4 – Build a Best-in-Class Digital Infrastructure
Melissa Woo, Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Information Officer, Michigan State University
The pandemic demonstrated how critical digital infrastructure is to our society. Projects such as MOON-Light, a partnership between MSU and Merit Network Inc., will help address critical infrastructure gaps in Michigan by enabling technologically advanced, middle-mile fiber optic infrastructure across the state. It will help interconnecting local Internet service providers (ISPs) to bring affordable, robust, high-speed broadband Internet to homes and businesses in Michigan’s underserved/unserved population areas. MOON-Light showcases the strength of public-private partnerships and its ability to overcome obstacles that hinder a sole entity’s ability to decrease the digital divide. Investments and partnerships of this nature are a major step toward eliminating discrepancies in broadband access across the entire state and have the potential to make Michigan a better connected state.
Step 5 – Close the Stem Gap with International Talent
Rami D. FakHoury, Managing Director, Fakoury Global Immigration
While Michigan’s auto industry undergoes a revolutionary transformation due to autonomous and electric vehicles, its shortage of skilled STEM talent remains unprecedented. Michigan has a higher percentage of job openings (7.2% of total workforce) than the national average (6.6%). Although many STEM graduates leave Michigan for the coasts, organizations like Global Detroit have succeeded in attracting STEM students to pursue optional practical training (OPT) with potential employers. Businesses can also take advantage of other strategies (H-1B, TNs, or O-1 visas) to attract and retain valuable STEM students. Companies interested in exploring options for obtaining international talent should contact our office.
Step 6 – Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Across Automotive Industry
Lisa Lunsford, Chief Executive Officer, Global Strategic Supply Solutions; Chair, MICHauto Board of Directors
Employers benefit from recognizing that incredible talent can arrive at your door by many paths, and we empower a diverse workforce when we identify success stories that haven’t followed the expected route. We often attract applications from people without traditional industry experience, but whose previous successes, earned skills and experience prove to be an asset to our bottom line. When we explore ‘beyond the resume,’ we remove institutional barriers and make investments in diversity, creating value at every level. With that mutual commitment to self-improvement, you provide a path to a better career, and you earn the loyalty of people with the drive to succeed.
Step 7– Promote Detroit Lifestyles Directly to Young Talent
Jenny Orletski-Dehne, Manager, Let’s Detroit, Detroit Regional Chamber
Thirty-six percent of college students leave the Detroit region within a year of graduating. Unlike previous generations that moved for their jobs, the new workforce is choosing jobs where their lifestyle needs are also met. With the region’s reasonable cost of living, opportunities for outdoor recreation and travel, and diverse culture, it’s the ideal location for young talent. To attract talent for the growing high-tech industry, we need to promote the lifestyle the Detroit region has to offer, showcasing what living, working, and playing here looks like – especially compared to other regions – and connect them with opportunities to grow their life here.
Step 8 – Aggressively Upskill Our Workforce
Christi Taylor, Senior Director, Talent Initiatives, Detroit Regional Chamber
K-12 students are a shrinking demographic that won’t provide enough skilled talent to meet all future employer needs, requiring us to look elsewhere. There are nearly 700,000 adults in the Detroit region with some postsecondary experience but no credential, and most of these adults are working at Detroit companies. Providing upskilling and continued education to incumbent workers builds a diverse talent pipeline from within, improving economic conditions for employees while reducing business costs related to turnover and recruiting. Employers can offer tuition assistance paired with flexible scheduling so workers can take classes, provide work-based learning experiences, and create education-friendly policies that incentivize and reward continued education.