Panning into a middle-class living room, TV viewers find themselves witness to a conversation between recent college grad, Owen, and his parents. Owen is clad in khakis, a wool pullover and dark chunky glasses. Dad is wearing jeans, a gray T-shirt and a thick button-down shirt, open from the neck down.
Owen has just announced that he will be working at GE. Mom and Dad are pleased — he has finally entered the ranks of family members working in manufacturing. Of course, they think he will need Grandpappy’s antique sledge hammer to do the job. Owen balks, explaining that while GE does make powerful manufacturing machines, he will be writing the code for those machines, which will do the heavy lifting. No need for a hammer. The parents are confused, and Dad accuses Owen of not being strong enough to lift the hammer.
In another vignette, Owen’s college-grad compatriots are comparing their new IT jobs. Owen tries to explain he will be coding to develop products that could change the world, but his buddy has landed a gig at Zazzies, an app that lets people make pictures of animals wearing fruit hats. Owen’s news fails to compute. After all, who does coding to “make stuff” when they can put fruit on animals?
The ad series, called “What’s the matter with Owen?” underscores real-world trends occurring in manufacturing today, including here in Southeast Michigan, and it is happening quickly. Recently, the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) looked at all jobs posted in the region’s manufacturing industry from 2010 to 2015 (year to date). The No. 1 job posted among all manufacturing employers in the region was software development for applications, Owen’s field of choice. Since 2010, job demand for app developers in manufacturing has escalated 416 percent. Software developers also landed in the top 20 list of in-demand manufacturing industry occupations.
IT job demand has been on a meteoric rise in Southeast Michigan since 2010. While the demand is prominent in manufacturing, it transcends all industries, including health care, finance, retail and others. The result is that job demand growth in the field rivals national tech hubs like San Jose, Calif., (Silicon Valley) Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and so forth.
So, is the demand for more “Owens” in the workplace a trend that is here to stay? A recent report released by WIN, which surveyed more than 230 business leaders in Michigan — a disproportionate number representing manufacturing firms — found that the most likely technologies to affect businesses in the next five-plus years include cloud computing, mobile Internet and workplaces, portable tablet computers and various forms of social media. Future workers, regardless of the industry in which they work, will need to be IT savvy. In fact, business respondents said the two most important things that can be done now to prepare future workers is to add computer skills to middle and high school core curricula, and ensure opportunities to gain problem solving, critical thinking and analytical skills.
According to the data, Owen is right: He will not need to be able to lift a hammer, but he will need the skills to code a machine that can build one, or just about anything else for that matter. The nice thing is that as he is doing that work, with the right mix of education and experience, he could be earning $80,000-$100,000 a year. So, what is the matter with Owen? When it comes to job demand in Southeast Michigan, there are simply not enough of him.
For more data and information from WIN’s recent Eureka! report, visit win-semich.org.