By James A. Mitchell
High-tech innovations may be called “disruptive” by some, but Workforce Intelligence Network partners instead see unprecedented opportunities for Detroit to not only revitalize but take the forefront of cutting-edge research and development, manufacturing and production.
WIN partners and industry leaders gathered in Detroit Tuesday, Oct. 20 to review survey results from more than 200 Michigan employers. The survey emphasized manufacturing, professional services, health care, education and Information Technology, and how the collective changes known as Eureka! technologies – from connected and automated vehicles to the “Internet of Things” – will impact jobs at all levels.
“‘The Internet of Things’ is not just a buzz word,” said Gregg Garrett, CEO and managing director of CGS Advisors, who joined a morning panel that explored how leading-edge technologies have changed the world of business. “The application of technology is so deep we need to look at the region beyond the automotive industry.”
A revitalized Detroit – and southeast Michigan in general – will certainly include a continuation of the city’s automotive and manufacturing traditions, and should be at the forefront of connected vehicles and other leading-edge technologies.
In a session entitled “The Future is Here,” Cory Clothier, the autonomous vehicle lead for Local Motors provided attendees with a sneak-peek at what he hopes will be direct-digital manufacturing of vehicles.
Such technologies are just the tip of the workforce pipeline that continues to require updated skills. The WIN survey – developed by McKinsey & Co. and the Economist Intelligence Unit – confirmed the widespread implementation of new technologies in the workplace. More than 75 percent of respondents have introduced high-tech innovations in the past year – and the status of talent pipelines. Reflecting a growing demand for tech skills, employers said that the first priority is professional development for current workers to address existing gaps, with a revised approach to education needed in general.
“Some current workers aren’t cutting it,” said Emily Stover DeRocco, director of education and workforce for Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT). “We can’t be leaders in research and development if we don’t develop a sustainable workforce.”
The problem is two-fold: Current workers are challenged to keep pace with technology and need retraining. Conversely, while “digital natives” – the millennial generation raised with a device in hand – will be able to quickly adapt to the newest app, DeRocco said there remains the need to educate these future employees in other aspects of the workplace.
“The old paradigm no longer works,” DeRocco said of education without hands-on experience.
Timothy Jackson, executive director of secondary initiatives for the Livingston Educational Service Agency and Washtenaw Intermediate School District, agreed. Industry efforts, he said, must be matched by changes in the basic curriculums that favor targeted technology training over standardized tests that have little or no real-world application.
“Our policy makers have sucked the life out of K-12 education,” Jackson said. “Because they’ve sucked the life out of context. These kids learn differently than we did.”
Teaching the teachers, panelists said, is among the priority items that need addressing for the city, state and region to fully capitalize on the opportunities of Eureka! technologies.