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Securing Talent: Moblity’s Workforce Shortage

By Melissa Anders

A Commitment to Attracting and Retaining Talent

As Michigan strives to position itself as the epicenter of the mobility revolution, some industry leaders express concern about whether the region can be competitive in attracting and retaining the engineering talent needed to fill the increasing number of high-tech roles.

Yet, there’s excitement and optimism for the state’s mobility prospects, backed by several new initiatives and programs aimed at further developing the workforce.

“There are good jobs here and people are very interested in working for the automotive industry right now,” says Charlie Ackerman, senior vice president of human resources for Bosch North America in Farmington Hills. “We’re seeing a strong uptick in that … it’s a very exciting transformation that the automotive industry is seeing right now.”

Bosch anticipates needing an additional 350 software engineers in the next two years. But the market is moving so fast, educators can’t keep up with the ever-changing needs of employers, Ackerman says. And there are not enough available applicants in the workforce with unemployment being so low. That’s why Bosch recently launched a software engineer apprenticeship program to help fill its talent needs. It’s also using the program’s standards to upscale its current talent within the organization.

“The faster that we can get government, educators, and industry to come together to share perspectives around common platforms — not multi-platforms — but common platforms, that’s where we’ll succeed,” Ackerman says.

Employers and Educators Team Up

Addressing the talent gap starts with strengthening education. Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson agrees that educators need constant input from industry professionals to understand their workforce needs. Last summer, WSU partnered with the Michigan Mobility Institute to open the Center for Advanced Mobility to expand the university’s engineering offerings and offer curriculum focused on connectivity, autonomous driving, smart infrastructure, and vehicle electrification.

“A lot of times there’s a disconnect between employers and the educational system, so we think that this partnership will better focus what the needs are and hopefully we can help on the curriculum side in terms of delivering people who are well-trained,” Wilson says.

Of course, Michigan’s automotive and mobility industry needs these students to stay in the state after graduation. When it comes to international talent, nearly two-thirds of foreign students who graduated from metro Detroit and Ann Arbor universities, and chose to remain in the U.S. under a training program for STEM students, decided to stay and work for a Detroit-area employer between 2004 and 2016, says Neil Ruiz, associate director of global migration and demography research at Pew Research Center.

Local students also see this as a great opportunity to be in the Detroit area, says Wilson, thanks to the proximity of the major auto companies, various suppliers, access to real-world urban mobility challenges and a large pool of industry experts.

The area’s cost of living and quality of life are helping attract talent says Jeffrey Donofrio, director of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

For example, Silicon Valley-based electronics company KLA Corporation is opening its second headquarters in Michigan to take advantage of the local automotive industry, a partnership with the University of Michigan, as well as the state’s natural beauty and quality of life.

“That’s the type of talent attraction we need to continue to nurture,” Donofrio says.

Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit native and freelance writer.