James A. Mitchell| Crain’s Custom Media

The need for a skilled workforce to keep pace with the latest – and future – trends in vehicle lightweighting has never been higher, and companies are scrambling to fill science, technology, electrical and manufacturing (STEM) positions from a limited base of qualified workers.

“It’s almost guerilla warfare for talent,” said Stephen Patchin, director of career services at Michigan Tech University. “This is just the start of the wave.”

The current disparity, he said, between available jobs and skilled employees may be the biggest challenge facing employers.

By ratios as high as 10-to-1, jobs outpaced the available – and qualified – workforce.

Workforce Intelligence Network reviewed job markets in five Midwestern states for the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and reported a demand that greatly exceeded the potential supply.

More than 260,000 job postings in 2013-2014 were available to just over 100,000 graduates or certified workers, according to WIN research. Among the more pronounced examples: More than 13,000 postings for electrical engineers against just 2,701 qualified graduates; more than 10,000 machine tool operator positions versus 625 who’d qualified; nearly 9,000 industrial engineer slots open to just 1,602 prospects.

Overall, jobs exceeded workers in 16 of 20 job categories; the exceptions included architectural, engineering and quality control systems managers.

Patchin said the imbalance was reflected at Michigan Tech’s recent job fair.

More than 340 prospective employers – eclipsing the previous high of 295 in what he called the “boom year” 2008 – were on campus in September to scout talent.

“STEM demand is increasing at a rapid rate,” Patchin said. “These companies are dealing with increased sales and a lot of retirements.”

What’s missing are workers not only educated but with hands-on, certified experience from on-the-job performance, internships or co-op credits.

“There are ‘shovel-ready’ projects; they’re searching for shovel-ready talent,” Patchin said. “It’s a good time to be in STEM areas, for sure.”


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