Manufacturers looking for the newest technologies in metals face a two-fold challenge: Maintaining a workforce schooled in the latest sciences while also developing a pipeline for future lightweighting engineers and workers. Industry experts said that demand for skilled workers in the fields of lightweighting and composite metals has never been higher.
“Clearly manufacturing is growing,” said Emily Stover DeRocco, workforce and education director for industry consortium Lightweighting Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT). “We have absolute growth in sectors, and also a continually aging baby-boomer population on the cusp of retirement. That creates a skills gap that’s a constant and growing challenge.”
Demand for manufacturing jobs related to lightweighting has steadily risen in recent years, notably in Michigan. According to industry analysis by the Workforce Intelligence Network, job postings increased by 76 percent in late 2015, with more than 18,000 positions advertised in the final two months of the year.
The competitive jobs — 65 percent of which require at least a bachelor’s degree — range from mechanical and electrical engineers to maintenance and repair workers familiar with the latest technologies.
It’s a growing sector with more than 140 occupations related to lightweighting under three categories: Skilled trades, administrative, and engineering and design. In 2015 nearly 700,000 workers in Michigan were employed in lightweighting-related jobs. According to the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, nearly 2.4 million workers nationwide are employed in the field.
DeRocco said that pathways have to address both current and long-term needs, for which the consortium had developed programs with partner industries. Southfield-based Grede — which designs, develops, and manufactures lightweight automobile components — has collaborated with LIFT to initiate student involvement and education.
“Each of our locations is tasked to develop relationships with local high schools, colleges and tech schools,” said Krysten Hamel, human resources director at Grede. “We have managers who go to the schools, provide plant tours and give students an understanding of the job opportunities.”
Some of those opportunities are hands-on efforts that represent a win-win for company and students alike, a new way of looking at workforce development in an evolving industry.
“We’re changing how we design parts, it’s a different mindset,” said Jay Solomond, vice president of engineering and technology. Potential and future employees work with Grede employees at a production facility for a small-volume run of new parts, which provides both hands-on training and a production model that can be rolled out at other plants.
“It’s a game-changer from a lightweighting standpoint,” Solomond said. “We’re taking lower-cost materials and developing high-end components, and getting people familiar — internally and externally — with lightweighting.”
For more information, visit the Workforce Intelligence Network online.