In terms of a career path and variety in work, “I think we offer the best opportunity of any manufacturer out there,” Gannaway said.
His audience was students at Washtenaw Community College, who milled around last week at the school’s first-ever job fair dedicated to linking students with companies seeking workers in the advanced transportation and mobility realms. Siemens was one of a dozen or so companies, including Aerotek, Aisin and TekWissen, participating in the event.
Even as companies such as General Motors and Ford Motor Co. eliminate thousands of white-collar jobs, automakers and suppliers say they cannot find enough qualified workers for skilled positions. Officials with both schools say curriculum changes are needed so graduates can fill the changing labor needs of the region’s automotive employers.
There’s fresh focus on subjects such as lightweighting, electrification and cybersecurity. There’s a new robotics lab and a 3D-printing lab that Tucker boasts is the largest in the state.
A new chassis dynamometer in the school’s garage rounds out a $9 million equipment and infrastructure overhaul that started in 2015. That’s when the school started working more closely with an industry advisory board and formed the Advanced Transportation Center, an umbrella unit that houses the repair service, intelligent transportation and advanced manufacturing programs.
“Employers don’t care about the degree,” Tucker said. “Employers care about the skills.”
And schools need to ensure students can work across disciplines rather than specialize in one.
“The idea of just being a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer is somewhat passe,” said Valerie Sathe Brugeman, assistant director at the Center for Automotive Research’s Transportation Systems Analysis Group. “You need to be well-rounded and know all those spaces to understand the system. Someone with systems knowledge, as well as someone who is nimble.”
For the last two years, Washtenaw has sent six interns to work in GM’s crash-test lab, and six recent graduates are working at Toyota Motor Corp., which has offices in the area. Siemens uses Ann Arbor as its flagship test bed for connected-vehicle technology. With the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory also in town, Nissan Motor Co.’s tech center nearby and Detroit less than an hour away, school officials sense the groundwork is in place.