Assessing and Addressing Gaps in Mobility Skills Training

The skills gap is a well-known barrier to technological and economic leadership in the region and the world, yet still among our greatest challenges. The talent shortage is likely most pronounced in the area of connected and autonomous vehicles since much of the technology and corresponding skills are still in the process of being developed.

A consortium of industry stakeholders is squarely focused on addressing this challenge, which is crucial to the Michigan economy. Known as MAGMA (Michigan Alliance for Greater Mobility Advancement), this group is comprised of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), suppliers, the State of Michigan, the post-secondary community and nonprofits with a shared focus on training, upskilling and collaboration. MAGMA convenes some of the industry’s top companies, including Ford, GM, and BorgWarner, to discuss, address and provide rapid skill growth solutions for employees focused on emerging technologies for advanced mobility.

MAGMA was created in 2009 when President Obama’s administration passed an increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. At that time, there was an open question: “How can we, the automotive industry, work together to figure out how to do this?” A few key businesses went to Lansing seeking assistance to rapidly upskill engineers in vehicle electrification and battery systems. This resulted in conversations being convened around building new curricula that would be necessary to rapidly upskill workers. Today, the state of Michigan remains engaged and on the board of MAGMA, and the need to upgrade skills continues with a focus on creating and implementing course curricula and training modules to develop the next generation of engineers and technicians.

What are those jobs exactly? These positions are multi-disciplinary and cross-functional. The Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN), which convenes and facilitates the work of MAGMA, publishes quarterly labor market reports that include the top in-demand jobs in the 16-county Detroit area where the workforce lives and works. These reports consistently show high demand for more engineers, as well as information technology professionals – including software developers for applications and products. In the merging of skills between automotive, information technology and communications, these are the occupations employers demand most.

As such, OEMs and suppliers attempting to pivot and develop new internal training programs often find it neither practical nor cost-effective. Instead, they look outwardly to organizations such as MAGMA to develop methodologies and instruction for short-term training and/or recommend other vendors for consideration. Finding economies of scale involves collaboration.

MAGMA facilitated collaborative training from 2009-2011. Then, as the market stabilized, companies returned to former practices of taking training programs in-house. Now, with a very tight labor market and an unrelenting pace of new technology development, companies again are finding it productive to collaborate on common training needs. In recent weeks, board members BorgWarner and GKN Driveline co-enrolled their staff in systems engineering training. MAGMA was able to work within this collaborative framework to establish that training, delivered concurrently at each of their facilities over the course of a few days. When industries join together to realize specialized training, companies can also apply for cost reimbursement from the State of Michigan’s Going Pro Talent Fund. MAGMA trainings, by definition, are industry-recognized because of the participation of nine industry partners who vet training to their shared needs. These partners include FCA, Ford, GM, Nissan, Toyota, BorgWarner, Bosch, Roush, ZF, and GKN Automotive. Training processes and syllabi are reviewed and approved by the MAGMA governing board before being released on the MAGMA website for members.

The MAGMA board is comprised of a diverse selection of corporate leaders – including human resource directors, talent acquisition managers and technical managers for research and development. The robust discussions and solutions considered by the consortium reflect a deep reach for context into each member’s respective organization. This work assists key decision-makers in operationalizing and contextualizing their own strategic decision making.

From a human resources and onboarding perspective, the work of MAGMA and its partners is expanding the mindset and conversations related to base-level qualifications for current workers and entry points for new professionals. Where previously the bachelors and master’s degrees may have served as  “minimum requirements,” the need for workers and new training stratagems is just too great and talent is not available on demand. Instead, MAGMA-developed curricula and training modules help to enable new and viable pathways with greater speed and efficiencies and – importantly – success. At the same time, post-secondary organizations that sit on the MAGMA board, including Michigan Tech, the University of Michigan, Wayne State, University of Detroit Mercy and Macomb Community College, are also listening and participating in intelligence sharing to determine what types of changes are needed within their degree programs, what types of new degree programs are required and how to develop those over time.

In today’s world of autonomous and connected vehicles, the opportunity for Michigan to continue its role as a global leader in mobility is clear. At the same time, maintaining that leadership position will not be without its share of challenges. MAGMA and its partners remain dedicated to continuing to convene, collaborate and innovate together.