Talent Matters Most Again

Important and unexpected article from Crain’s Detroit Business on Michigan’s shortage of automotive engineers. That’s right, shortage! Conventional wisdom is that we have a big competitive advantage in engineers. The story is we have a surplus, the country has a shortage. Apparently not. Or at least not in engineers with skills in electric vehicles engineering. Supposedly the growth engine of the Michigan economy.

The story is entitled:  Electric-drive powertrain suppliers face shortage of engineering talent. It is the same basic story we have been writing about for years. Jobs available, not enough folks with the right skills to fill them. Coming out of the Great Recession this is going to be a reality in lots of industries. The post recession jobs will be increasingly knowledege-based. We don’t have enough folks with competitive skills, so there will be more jobs available than people with the skills to fill them.

The Crain’s story ends with the predictable bottom line: can’t find talent here, companies will go elsewhere. As they write:  Oliver Hazimeh, head of the e-mobility practice at consultant Waltham, Mass.-based PRTM, says Detroit-area suppliers and automakers face a challenge in persuading engineers to relocate. They may have to consider satellite engineering centers in places like Silicon Valley, he says:”The solution may be to go where the resources are.”

More evidence that in a knowledge-based economy it is talent that is the asset that matters most. It is both the most important asset and also the one in the shortest supply. So increasingly enterprises will move to where the talent is, not workers to the jobs. And the places they will move to our places like Silicon Valley – talent rich – not places with low taxes and weak unions that we are warned about constantly. If it can happen in an industry where we are dominant like autos, believe me it can happen in any industry.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. The Detroit Region does have tremendous engineering talent and it is drawing employers who are seeking it. It shouldn’t be surprising that even in an area with talent that there are specialized areas, particularly related to emerging technology, where there are shortages. Still, this should serve as a wake-up call to look at the engineering talent pipeline in the region.

  2. Greg Pitoniak, director of the SEMCA Michigan Works! agency, has been working with employers on this problem. They developed a certification program that is being attended by many automotive engineers to get them up to speed on vehicle electrification technologies. I’m surprised that Crain’s missed that important piece of the story. Greg – Can you add some detail to this?

  3. Though there may be a shortage of electric vehicle engineers to meet the immediate needs of employers, the MI Works agencies of SEM and the MI DELEG identified this potential need ahead of the actual demand. In 2009, partnering with employers and higher education institutions, the MI Academy for Green Mobility Alliance (MAGMA) was formed and recognized as a MI Sector Skills Alliance. With 18 major automotive manufacturers/suppliers as members, MAGMA solicited universities to provide courses leading to certification for engineers in advanced energy storage and applications for the production of hybrid electric vehicles. The course content was defined by the employers and currently Wayne State, UD Mercy and MI Tech are offering MAGMA approved courses. For the Fall 2009 and Winter 2010 semesters over 300 employed and dislocated engineers attended these courses with tuition funded by the Southeast MI Community Alliance (SEMCA) MI Works Agency from a grant provided by MI DELEG. Additional employer-designed courses have recently been approved by MAGMA and SEMCA will be funding the tuition of hundreds more engineers for the upcoming Winter semester and beyond.

  4. Greg –

    This sure sounds like the right approach. With the employers defining the curriculum and given the scale, this has a real chance to make a difference. Any word on how many of the 300 engineers have been hired?


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