Keeping talent pipelines filled with software and app developers is no longer just an IT problem. Qualified developers are needed more than ever across all sectors, and the skill sets are among the most in-demand among manufacturing firms.

At General Electric, for example, the need for software developers is a two-fold challenge that covers both new product design and customer interface.

“Our focus, first and foremost, is finding people to create and improve products,” said Jim Beilstein, CIO for Advanced Manufacturing IT at General Electric Michigan. Along with an aging workforce – which needs to keep current with developments – the company is challenged to lure tech-savvy graduates to conventional manufacturing positions.

“It’s a big deal for us and a big focus of our work in GE Digital as we look to transform ourselves,” Beilstein said. “The competition is pretty hot and heavy right now.”

Beilstein’s assessment reflects recent findings of the Workforce Intelligence Network, which noted that application and software development topped the list of manufacturing positions posted in southeast Michigan from 2010-2015. Demand has risen by more than 400 percent since 2010, and the field consistently ranks in the top 20 most in-demand occupations.

To remain competitive GE has doubled down on training and recruitment, internally and through internships. Every employee is asked to complete a minimum of 20 annual hours training or studying to improve technical skills; each semester at the University of Michigan includes among its students at least a few employees and co-op interns who can bring to GE the latest and greatest developments.

While Beilstein said GE has – at least in most markets – kept pace with pipeline demands, more than a few companies are feeling the pressures of an aging workforce leaving talent gaps that could make-or-break the bottom line.

“This is an issue that’s more than just nationwide,” said Jon Riley, VP of Digital Manufacturing for the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences. “You have an enormous group of talent who are retiring. The exit rate is substantial.”

Software development for manufacturing marks a departure from conventional engineering or design responsibilities, with an increasing need for higher education as a foundation. A recent WIN survey of 230 Michigan business leaders – most in manufacturing – said that chief among future concerns was staying competitive with app- and cloud-driven technologies.

An educated workforce needs strategic recruiting, and Riley said that NCMS has seen success when a region’s collective industry forms partnerships with community colleges and universities to better traffic the talent flow.

“Modern day technicians have to have a community college degree,” Riley said. “And aspirations for more. Manufacturing is now a digital arena and highly data-driven.”

Programs to keep the pipeline flowing – coordinated by agencies such as the Detroit Regional Chamber and Workforce Intelligence Network – include Pure Michigan Business Connect, which Riley described as an extension of a business-to-business cooperative that looks to place talent.

Shared resources, Riley said, bring about a “one-plus-one-equals-three” equation.

“The program helps connect Michigan companies to supply other Michigan companies,” Riley said. “The real benefit has been organizations with complementary missions getting to know each other. Instead of match-making for suppliers, we’re trying to match-make a workforce.”

Find out more about the Workforce Intelligence Network and how your organization can partner with them.

By James Mitchell

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