Dr. James R. Sayer, director of the University of Michigan Research Institute shows WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca around the streets of Mcity, a 32-acre simulated urban environment used to test connected and autonomous vehicle technology.

Five questions on: Advanced Transportation Center to help prepare workforce for connected vehicle research

Recent research in a partnership between the Center for Advancing Transportation Leadership and Safety (ATLAS Center), the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), and the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN), shows a great demand for workers in transportation-related safety occupations. According to findings from this upcoming report, one-eighth of Michigan’s workers are employed in jobs related to transportation safety. These occupations include workers in engineering & design, operations, and planning, and account for 12.6% of the state’s total employment.

However, too few young workers are entering transportation safety occupations, signaling a future long-run worker shortage. Twenty-percent of transportation safety workers in Michigan are over 55 today, meaning that nearly 113,000 workers will have to be replaced over the next 10 years.

In response to these needs, Washtenaw Community College (WCC) recently announced the development of a groundbreaking Advanced Transportation Center (ATC) that will merge the industries of Automotive Transportation Servicing (focusing on vehicle repair and maintenance), Intelligent Transportation Systems (focusing on vehicle safety), and Advanced Manufacturing (focusing on how vehicles are built and what they are made of). Through the ATC, WCC is preparing its students with the skills they need to acquire jobs in these areas.

WIN talked to Dr. James R. Sayer, Director of UMTRI, as well as Alan Lecz, Center Director at the Advanced Transportation Center, to learn more about how this innovative new center will provide necessary skills and education to the young workforce for the future.

Q: What is the latest that UMTRI and the Advanced Transportation Center are doing to prepare students and the future workforce for the next phase of connected vehicle research?

Lecz: At WCC, a series of courses are being developed for Connected & Automated Vehicle (CAV) applications including the infrastructure side. Faculty and administrators are learning about the technology applications, including cybersecurity issues. Additionally, WCC has partnered with Square One Education Network to collaborate on K-12 Teacher and student training in CAV principles, using high school team projects to teach the basic technologies.

Sayer: Partnering with WCC was an obvious choice. WCC is preparing to address one of the most important challenges facing a national deployment of connected vehicle technology: qualified, job-ready employees who are trained in the latest intelligent transportation systems. WCC is located within a mile of the largest connected vehicle deployment test bed in the world, WCC faculty and students will benefit from the test sites, the experts and the technology that will play a part in transforming our current transportation system, as well as play a critical role in the revitalization of the economy of the state of Michigan.

Q: Tell us more about the fleet vehicles that have UMTRI technology and how the findings will be used.

Sayer: UMTRI has donated dedicated short-range communication technology [DSRC] for two of the college’s fleet vehicles. The DSRC technology will allow the WCC vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and help provide vital data for the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment. The technology is wireless and submits information to transceivers located on the state and city’s traffic infrastructure equipment within the test environment area. The assembled data will reflect how drivers behave and what they encounter when behind the wheel. The data will then be used to estimate the safety benefits of a connected car.

Q: Please talk about the curricula being developed by WCC to train students for jobs that will require knowledge of advanced technologies in transportation?

Lecz: For ATC, UMTRI has provided guidance on the emerging technologies such as dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology and data analytics. Early courses at WCC are offering students the opportunity to gain an understanding of this technology. UMTRI has donated DSRC equipment and fitted a number of WCC and executive leadership vehicles with DSRC communications modules to gather real vehicle usage data.

WCC’s Computer Information Systems (CSI) Department is offering its “C# Programming for Modern Computing Environments” series of courses in vehicle microprocessor programming and operation as part of an understanding of the vehicle-embedded systems technologies and software.

ATC’s automotive services pillar plans to add content to its vehicle on-board diagnostics training with V2X communications diagnostics. Additionally, workforce development activities are defining the emerging transportation technician skills and competencies.    

Q: What is the importance of this collaboration for the future workforce?

Lecz: WCC recognizes UMTRI as a leader in its ITS testing at MCity. UMTRI provides access to leading research and development experts in ITS technologies. The collaboration with UMTRI and WCC will help WCC to develop “implementation-ready” technology courses and programs aimed at technicians in automotive and transportation operations.

Sayer: UMTRI:  The deployment of connected and automated vehicles requires a wide range of technical knowledge, and will soon offer employment opportunities in a variety of areas.  As part of the community, we are committed to supporting the development of our future workforce.

Q: Based on the research already completed and in the works, what still needs to happen–in terms of workforce development and technology transfer–to make this new technology a reality?

Lecz: In order for this technology to become a reality, there will need to be more of a “pull” from industry, rather than a “push” from education. Industry employers will need to collaborate on establishing more experiential learning opportunities, e.g. internships, in prototype testing. There will need to be more faculty exposure to the technologies to facilitate course and program development, and more marketing and exposure of career pathways, specifically to K-12 teachers and students.

Sayer: Ongoing research in CAV/ITS is vital.  As UMTRI expands its deployment area, we also need increased participation from the community.  Anyone interested in learning more about how they can get involved should contact our program directly atconnectedvehicle@umich.edu.

For more information on UMTRI and WCC’s ATC, please click on each organization’s name to visit their websites. A comprehensive report on Michigan’s transportation safety-related workforce will be released by the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) in late March.

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