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Mentorships, Outreach Rev up Students for Automotive Careers

Key Takeaways:

  1. Educating students about high tech careers at an early age is critical to fuel Michigan’s talent pipeline.
  2. STEM education in the classroom will prepare students for jobs that require new skills.
  3. Fostering a collaborative work culture of inclusion and engagement is key to retaining talent.

Talent and Culture Transformation PanelGlobal supplier Robert Bosch averages 19 new patents a day — but meeting that type of innovation requires talent, which the company is pursuing aggressively.

Charlie Ackerman, senior vice president of human resources for Bosch, stressed the importance of talent during a panel discussion titled “Talent and Culture Transformation in the New Automotive World” sponsored by Business Leaders for Michigan and Ford Motor Co.

Ackerman said attracting talent is part of Bosch’s DNA, which it accomplishes through a combination of outreach to local schools participating in STEM-related programs such as FIRST Robotics, offering scholarships and creating mentorship opportunities between Bosch engineers and students.

As vehicles and technology increasingly become more aligned, talent retention, attraction and development are critical to sustaining Michigan’s automotive industry, he said.

Rose Bellanca, president of Washtenaw Community College, agreed, stating that there are currently 85,000 to 145,000 vacant jobs in Michigan related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills related to advanced transportation.

To address that need, Washtenaw Community College created the one-of-a-kind Advanced Transportation Center to provide training for intelligent transportation, advanced manufacturing and automotive services industries in Michigan.

While training for college students is important, Bellanca said educating students about high-tech careers at an early age is critical. Citing the work of the Jackson Area Manufacturing Association to expose students to STEM careers, Bellanca told the story of a fourth grade student who was inspired by the Association and went on to become a mechanical engineer at the University of Michigan.

“STEM programs starting as early as elementary school are necessary as disruptive innovation taking place in business drives economic opportunity and jobs that require new skills,” she said.

Fostering a collaborative work culture of inclusion and engagement also plays a key role in retaining talent, according to Suzanne Seitz, vice president of Total Rewards for Cooper Standard. Companies that understand and provide for younger employees who often seek career advancement opportunities, learning and development opportunities, challenging work, special projects and exposure to top leaders, are often more successful at retaining talent, she said.

Another key component of attracting and retaining talent is the ability to create cohorts of individuals with similar interests. Bradley Hoos, executive director of Hacker Fellows, said his company pairs up Michigan and national college computer science graduates with startup companies through a one-year fellowship program to learn from experts in their field.

In addressing a question from panel moderator Jeff Mason, executive director of the University Research Corridor, about changing perceptions of automotive industry careers, Bellanca said it starts with parents, school counselors and industry insiders.

“It’s more than just a skilled trade. It’s about telling a story and sharing the vision of what we are building in Michigan,” she said.