Shawn Wright| Crain’s Detroit Business
As Michigan’s auto industry and advanced manufacturing sectors continue significant strides toward improved technology, the need for more skilled workers in 2014 will be in greater demand.
“The auto industry, in general, is making a shift to higher technology. Particularly, in the cars themselves,” said Jay Baron, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research.
“I refer to it as the big three – powertrain, materials and electronics. I think those are probably the three biggest groups of technologies, at least in the vehicles.”
For that reason alone, the demand is strong in the number of technical people companies are trying to hire, but “every auto company in North America you talk to would say they can’t find enough of the technical skill sets in those three fields,” Baron said.
“In Michigan we have a fairly high unemployment rate, yet there are a lot of for-hire signs at these companies,” he said. “They need technical-skilled people; technicians who can fix machines when they break down, computer programmers and other sorts of positions.”
On the technical side, he said, the top three in-demand jobs for 2014 will be mechanical, electrical and systems engineers.
Data from the Workforce Intelligence Network found 23,831 job postings for engineers across metro Detroit during the period of January to December, 2013. It was a slight decrease from the 25,213 postings from the same period in 2012.
Amidst that, there were nearly 5,900 mechanical engineer job openings. And, coinciding with Baron’s prediction, WIN found that electrical engineers were in demand, with more than 4,600 job offerings.
CAR is forecasting a slight increase in car sales for the next two years, “yet we’re already busting at the seams to get more cars out, running two to three shifts,” Baron said. “The suppliers are trying to stay caught up.”
One problem, he said, is suppliers don’t want to add more shifts or capacity because of trepidation caused by the recession and auto industry downturn. But today’s factories contain more sophisticated technology with robots and programmable automation, and the need for competent workers is vital.
On the skilled trades side, Baron said tool and die makers are hard to find. Last year, there were more than 6,300 people employed in tool and die positions in Southeast Michigan, according to WIN’s data.
“In the supply chain, there is a severe shortage of tool and die makers,” Baron said. “Virtually every tool and die shop in North America, certainly those in Michigan, would love to have more tool and die makers.”
With U.S. exports at the highest they’ve been in years, there also are opportunities to continue advanced manufacturing growth in Michigan.
“We’re still a leader in manufacturing, despite all the problems we’ve had over the years,” said Rick Jarman, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor-based National Center for Manufacturing Sciences. “I also think manufacturing has to adapt and get smart.”
For example, he said, advanced manufacturing and IT will work more closely together in 2014.
“Those two worlds are rapidly coming together,” Jarman said. “From our standpoint, only 1 percent of the things in the world that could be connected are. I think smart manufacturing has to make good use of that connectivity.”
But in order to meet employers’ needs, more work needs to be done.
“Even with education training, we need to collaborate better,” Jarman said. “Even with (NCMS’) newer relationship with Lawrence Tech, we’re taking advantage of a lot of the young people who are now being educated and trained and have excellent skills we can use.
“But we need to make sure we also can take the existing workforce and get them those skills. Hopefully, if we can collaborate properly and effectively, we can let some of that new workforce help the existing workforce.”
In essence, he said, the emerging workforce can take advantage of their predecessors’ knowledge and experience while the existing workers can glean the incoming employees’ knowledge on tools and capabilities.
“We’re seeing trends in the right direction,” Jarman said. “The only thing that keeps me up at night is I wish I could speed the pace.”