By James A. Mitchell

It’s not just one career field that’s on the rise with connected vehicles. Educators and workforce experts say new frontiers are being explored across a yet-unknown number of sectors and skill sets.

“This is an emerging technology for transportation and the automotive industry that bridges into manufacturing as well,” said Alan Lecz, director of the Advanced Transportation Center at Washtenaw Community College. “There’s so much being developed for efficiency, safety and transportation. All of this is touching on multiple industries.”

The center was formed in response to projected job growth with an IT-intensive curriculum. Technologies and career fields involving intelligent transportation systems and vehicles, Lecz said, extend beyond automotive manufacturing.

“It’s one thing to have vehicle-to-vehicle connections, that’s exciting itself,” Lecz said. “But we’re looking at the infrastructure impact to define something that’s a little ambiguous right now. What are the skills and competencies needed? A lot is unknown.”

Washtenaw and other colleges are adjusting their curriculums to bring intelligent transportation courses into current STEM programs, and also aiming at the next generation with initiatives including a recent partnership with Square One Education Network for K-12 students to explore connected vehicle technologies. Lecz said that Washtenaw has obtained a Department of Transportation grant to better define the skills and competencies needed.

“We’re focused on the technical level,” Lecz said. “All of that technology needs to be brought to an implementation-ready stage. Our role is to prepare the technicians and help them get ready to move onto university campuses.”

Students aren’t the only ones in need of a new education. Lecz said that Washtenaw faculty members have taken courses in connected vehicle technologies offered by the Society of Automotive Engineers to better understand future workforce needs.

The subject was among the most-often discussed at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference. Preparing a future workforce will, it was agreed, require a collaborative effort between industry, education and government. Emerging careers to support the future of transportation will involve basics beyond current STEM offerings to include cybersecurity, sensors, hardware, equipment and design.

“So much is emerging that they’re inventing it as we go,” Lecz said. “This further complicates things for Departments of Transportation and the auto industry as they develop vehicles and the infrastructure that will work with this.”

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