As Southeast Michigan's mobility field rapidly expands, with new technologies being developed every day, employers and their employees must be proactive to make sure they have the skills to keep pace with the industry.
So in 2009 the state of Michigan and a consortium of OEMs, tier suppliers, educational institutions, and workforce organizations formed the Michigan Alliance for Greater Mobility Advancement (MAGMA). MAGMA keeps its finger on the pulse of the skills employers need and provides training that addresses those needs.
Michelle Wein is the director of research and regional initiatives for the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN), a partnership of 10 community colleges and 6 Michigan Works! Agencies in southeast Michigan, which has been managing MAGMA since 2013. She says MAGMA's main focus is on training the incumbent workforce.
"When we find these critical skills gaps, it's hard to think of ways to address them without talking about people going all the way back to the community colleges or universities to obtain some other degrees, or to think about addressing them in ways that don't entirely remove the workers from the workforce," she says. "What MAGMA really does is come up with an innovative solution that allows people to be upskilled, but at the same time doesn't remove them from their positions to do so."
MAGMA accomplishes that through a set of six different short courses, which take anywhere from a half-day to three days. Employers who are members of the MAGMA consortium may request the courses for their employees, usually in small groups of six to 10. The course topics are embedded controls, plastic injection molding, project/program management, soft skills, systems engineering concepts, and vehicle performance case studies.
Wein says the soft skills course is one of the most popular, due to the "generational divide" between baby boomers/Gen Xers and millennials in the workforce.
"The way that a millennial thinks about work is very different from the way that a baby boomer thinks about work," she says. "One of the things that the employers really want to see is how to better increase communication along the generational divide and how to create camaraderie along the generational divide."
Systems engineering courses are also popular – and have changed significantly in recent years to include more focus on the burgeoning and rapidly changing field of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV).
"Vehicle electrification wasn't always a short course that we provided, and now it's obviously one that's entirely in demand," Wein says.
In addition to its educational offerings, MAGMA also convenes quarterly council meetings of its consortium members. The meetings are open to the public, and Wein says they're intended not only to spark discussion among consortium members, but to raise public awareness of what's going on in Michigan's mobility industry. She references a recent meeting when Michigan Department of Transportation representatives spoke about the work they're doing on CAV.
"There's the vehicle side of it, but there's also all the ways MDOT is working to modernize our roadways in the state of Michigan," Wein says. "I think a lot of people had no idea what was going on behind the scenes."
MAGMA has trained over 800 people in the organization's lifetime. Wein says the organization now has incumbent workforce training "pretty well under control," so it's looking towards new challenges. It's now working on programs targeting community college students, as well as an asset map of all available career training programs in Michigan. Wein says the Michigan mobility industry's biggest upcoming challenge will be the "retirement cliff."
"There's so many people who are going to be leaving the workforce in the next five to 10 years," she says. "Are we going to have enough individuals who are trained and ready to fill those spots? Based on the conversations I've had with our MAGMA employers, the answer is probably 'No.' But it's also not an answer we can't change if we continue to work on these particular issues at a community organizing-style kind of level."