Shawn Wright| Crain’s Custom Media
As discussions and implementation of connected vehicle technology become more prevalent, the workforce to build and maintain the future generations of automobiles will vary across all platforms.
But its growth is expected to continue – if the schools can keep up.
“The touchpoints are pretty extensive,” said Jeannine Kunz, director of Tooling U. “It’s one of those great examples of a technology advancement that doesn’t just impact the automotive industry. It impacts all the surrounding systems in the telecommunication area, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s systems, the roads … a lot of things will have to go into making it work, beyond construction of the actual vehicle.”
Tooling U, formerly Cleveland-based online training nonprofit Tooling University LLC, works with manufacturers and community colleges to create updated manufacturing skills, including operation and maintenance of increasingly more complex robotics.
Dearborn-based engineering society SME acquired Tooling U four years ago to boost manufacturing skills across the globe. SME and Tooling U understand the workforce needed for these high-tech connected vehicles will have to blend mechanical and electrical engineering systems.
“(But) we are getting behind,” Kunz said. “Our education within training manufacturing in the current workforce is being outpaced by the advancements in technology. … There’s a gap that’s already naturally formed in that.”
In addition, she said, the school systems are not as agile and quick-changing as needed to keep up with the demands of the workforce. But they are trying. For example, community colleges and others are putting forth programs on mechatronics. In general, the curriculum trains participants in electronics, computers, mechanical fundamentals and automation. No longer are teaching these skilled trades isolated.
“When you talk about skillsets, it is hard to find someone with the skills that can connect the mechanical, electrical and software engineering sides in manufacturing,” Kunz said. “But that is really the skill, in large part, that will be more beneficial to a connected vehicle.”
The federal government is ramping up its importance on connected vehicle technology. In February, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it will begin taking steps to enable vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology for light vehicles.
The technology, according to NHTSA, would improve safety by allowing vehicles to “talk” to each other and ultimately avoid many crashes altogether by exchanging basic safety data, such as speed and position, 10 times per second.
But exchanging drivers’ data also will play a role in creating a new IT workforce for connected vehicles. Earlier this year, Ford’s Jim Farley, global vice president of marketing and sales, was in a little hot water after making a statement about how GPS units installed in Ford vehicles allow the automaker to know when many of its drivers are speeding, and where they are while they’re doing it.
“One thing about the technology is there is a lot of talk right now about big data and cybersecurity,” Kunz said. “Imagine all of that information flow that really is required for a connected vehicle, not only within that vehicle but how it works. We have to be very cognizant of the fact of someone taking over a vehicle through cybersecurity, protection and information flow.”