According to the Workforce Intelligence Network’s (WIN) Data and Research Team, between 2011-2017, Southeast Michigan saw an 18 percent increase in robotics and automation-related job postings. At the same time, this 16-county region, made up of major manufacturing hubs – including Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Jackson and Pontiac – contains Michigan’s largest population of long-term unemployed and underemployed individuals. This figure includes recent college graduates. Clearly, there is a disconnect.

“Employers want to hire experienced talent, so there’s often a strong bias against new or recent graduates,” said Macomb Community College Administrator Susan Corey. “As such, viable candidates with the ability to meet companies’ needs are getting screened out of the recruitment database.”

More than 40 Southeast Michigan employers expressed their workforce needs to a panel of partnering professionals and were met with a tangible solution by morning’s end at the Advance Michigan Catalyst Information Session at Automation Alley in late February.

Through a Q&A panel discussion led by David Palmer, senior director for strategies & partnerships at WIN, employers from various science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions elaborated on the motivation behind their attendance. The resounding need for technical talent acquisition, resource development and strategic partnerships became evident.

“We are very active in working with various colleges and trade schools already, but we want to expand our resources and cast a wider net,” said John Tucker, director of human resources at PTM Corporation. “We look at every viable recruitment opportunity but know it’s all about results. All of us here want a quick path to connect with the talent we both need and desire.”

Hosted by WIN, the panel, made up of partnering representatives from Macomb Community College (MCC), Oakland Community College (OCC) and each county’s respective Michigan Works! Agency addressed attendees with solutions in sight.

“The Advance Michigan Catalyst program, lasting 14-16 weeks, is for students who are looking to gain hands-on experience in the robotics and automotive industries. With a cohort of 15 students, individuals earn a certificate of completion, all while building a strong professional network with peers and potential employers,” said OCC Program Manager Kristin Charlton.

Funded through an America’s Promise grant – concentrated on occupations such as robotics, technicians and engineers – from the United States Department of Labor until 2020, OCC and MCC are two of the 10 regional educational institutions connecting to the employer and economic development needs. Working with WIN, both colleges have designed tailored programs to help students obtain the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for employment at the technician level. Funding for training both unemployed and underemployed individuals is available through the local Michigan Works! Agencies in Southeast Michigan.

As the discussion continued, the panel reminded attendees that the most connected companies get the top candidates and strongly encouraged active involvement from interested companies in a variety of ways. With courses set to begin next semester, employers can spark an interest with students through on-site informational sessions and share their business model, mission and the qualities they look for in potential employees. As the relationship and program develop, students can also tour company facilities to gain a clearer picture of industry roles and participate in speed interviews.

Employers’ questions for Michigan Works! panelists, such as how employers may be able to challenge supervisors to think outside of their longstanding job recruitment methods and the accompanying applicant requirements, soon followed.

“We have to acknowledge the need to better educate ourselves on talent opportunities. Expose your HR and executive team members to these students and show them value outside of the status quo,” said Oakland County Michigan Works! Troy Manager Denise VanHee.

Macomb County Michigan Works! Manager Mike Draheim summarized, “At our office, thousands of potential job candidates come through the doors looking for direction. Now, we want to connect your companies with them.”

The enthusiasm from employers to learn more about cultivating talent continued beyond the program, with many staying behind to exchange cards with panelists and network with fellow attendees. A desire for connecting with the robotics and automation professionals of tomorrow is clear, and WIN and its partners are ready to help.

If your organization would like more information on becoming a strategic partner of the Advance Michigan Catalyst program, please contact Rana Al-lgoe, director of Work-Based Initiatives at or visit

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