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Column: Rev interest in high-tech auto jobs

Dec. 13, 2017

The Detroit News

Glenn R. Stevens

Michigan’s automotive industry is healthy, but it’s vastly different than in years past. The mobility world is upon us, and it represents one of the most significant inflection points we have ever experienced in our industry and state. The career possibilities are much more diverse than they were 10 years ago and continue to broaden. But the industry does have a problem. Talent. While the perceptions of our industry as a career opportunity have improved, too many of our students still do not consider the automotive industry as an exciting, high-tech career option with a potential for growth. That needs to change.

Long gone are the days where car companies were only interested in putting wheels on cars and getting them on the roads. The automotive industry has collided with the tech world, and there is a convergence of companies and innovation happening from Detroit to Silicon Valley, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Stuttgart and all points of the globe. Mechanical and electrical engineers will always be a staple in the industry but now, more than ever, the industry needs coders, software developers, technology scientists and data engineers to take those cars and connect them to the internet of everything. The connected and automated vehicle is dramatically shaping how people, services, goods and data are moved around us.

Currently, Michigan ranks number one in the nation in connected and automated vehicle projects. With more than 2,500 mobility-related patents awarded in Michigan over the past five years, the state continues to lead in innovation. Last week, at the annual MICHauto Summit, new data was released that showed more than 2,200 facilities in the state of Michigan conduct automotive research, design, engineering, testing and validation, many more than previously estimated. The future is ours for the taking, but the critical task for the industry today is attracting the best and brightest to fill the talent pipeline for tomorrow. About 20 percent of the current industry is at or near retirement age. Who will fill these jobs? It is essential that we look at the human capital supply change in a holistic way. We must develop our young minds, attract new talent, and supplement it with New Americans, veterans coming back to the workforce, and through retraining and reskilling our people. In a state with abundant natural and cultural resources, Michigan is an ideal home to live, work and play.

The 2017 Automobility Career Perception Survey, released at the Summit, completed by Research America Inc. and funded in part by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., gathered feedback from 900 students and influencers on how they felt about Michigan’s automotive industry and their commonly held perceptions and assumptions regarding future career opportunities.

The data showed some improvements since our first perception survey in 2014. There was a 14 percent increase of students who would consider a career in the automotive industry and a 12 percent gain in the number of youths, and 19 percent gain in the number of influencers who believe the automotive industry is growing with opportunity and advancement in manufacturing, professional skilled trades, and for those with advanced degrees. That’s good news for our industry. However, zero percent of youth outside of Michigan believe Detroit is leading the way in autonomous/driverless vehicle testing and development. Michigan youth understand Michigan is a state where innovation takes place, while youth outside of the state did not list Michigan in their top five states.

We have work to do. Developing, attracting and retaining talent must be Michigan’s top business priority and will determine our economic future. The digitalization of our economy, from the Industry 4.0 transformation on the shop floor to the connected car as the most high-tech consumer product on the planet, mandates that Michigan develop its workforce to transform our economy.

Glenn Stevens is the executive director for MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives at the Detroit Regional Chamber. To download the executive summary of the perception survey or for more information on the MICHauto, visit


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