As autonomous vehicles get closer to reality, several pressing issues loom on the workforce front. The development of self-driving cars requires specialized skills that are currently in shortage across the country. It’s also expected that certain professions will be disrupted by autonomous vehicles, and, as a result, those workers will soon need a new career path.
The Ypsilanti Township, MI-based American Center for Mobility (ACM), a public-private entity developing and testing mobility technologies, has formed a new partnership with 15 universities and community colleges across the state to train the next generation of autonomous tech talent. John Maddox, the ACM’s director, says the idea came about after numerous discussions with automakers.
“We’re working closely with a number of companies—some that we’ve announced and some that we have not announced,” Maddox explains. “One of the clear, common messages we’re hearing from industry is the need to train the mobility workers of the future. There’s a new skillset required that presents new opportunities and, quite frankly, challenges.”
According to a report released in February by the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan and the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, roughly 49 occupations across a variety of skillsets have been identified as relating directly to connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) development, including IT, cybersecurity, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and transportation systems design. The report found that the CAV workforce in general will need some combination of these skills along with a deep understanding of engineering, math, and IT.
Because the federal government has yet to outline regulations pertaining to the development of CAVs, it’s harder to pinpoint exactly what future workforce demands will entail. However, the report suggested that workers with bachelor’s degrees will be in high demand. The report also recommended that community colleges work “hand-in-hand with employers” to develop programming customized to enhance the skills of current industry employees, as well as develop entry-level courses so future workers can then move into employer training or a bachelor’s program.
Maddox says many of the universities in the consortium had already expressed interest in working with the ACM, so a collaborative educational effort made sense.
“We think Michigan has incredible bench strength in its universities and community colleges,” he says. “With the ACM right in their backyard, it’s an important step to take.”
Although the consortium’s curricula are still in the development stages, Maddox says the programming could encompass everything from legal training to software development to vehicle repair. The classes will range from refresher training to post-graduate courses, and will be held at the ACM as well as consortium schools. The goal, he says, is to leverage current university efforts rather than duplicate them.
“CAVs will create new regulatory questions, so we’ll need lawyers trained and aware of future transportation issues,” he says. “We also need people who can service autonomous vehicles, because it’s not your normal repair work. These vehicles will have software updates on a regular basis—workers will need to ensure the updates hit their mark. And when CAVs get into an accident, it’s not just a matter of new parts; they will potentially have to recalibrate all the vehicle’s sensors.”
Maddox also wants the consortium to focus on retraining workers, especially those employed in jobs that may be displaced by the coming autonomous era, such as truck drivers or delivery drivers. Maddox imagines that, one day, we might need ground traffic controllers the way we have air traffic controllers now. “That could be a retraining opportunity,” he adds.
The ACM recently began a project with Michigan State University and some of its member companies to look at the issue and create CAV-specific retraining programs. Maddox believes this is a first-of-its-kind effort nationally.
“We’ve created a pretty bold consortium focused on brand-new technology with curricula targeted to industry needs, and I’m not aware of any other organizations undertaking something like this,” he says.
Maddox has already heard from colleges and universities outside of Michigan that are interested in being part of the consortium, and he says the ACM is exploring that idea. He’s not sure when classes will begin, but says his organization is pushing the consortium to move at a pace more associated with tech startups than academia.
The first phase of the ACM, which is currently under construction, is still on track to open to the public in December. So far, Maddox says, the ACM has raised in excess of $100 million to fund its development, but the financial model to pay for the consortium’s work hasn’t yet been finalized.
“I expect the early programs will be funded by industry because they have the biggest need,” he says.
Members of the academic consortium include Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Kettering University, Lawrence Technological University, Macomb Community College, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Oakland University, University of Detroit Mercy, University of Michigan, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Washtenaw Community College, Wayne County Community College, Wayne State University, and Western Michigan University.