Manufacturing is heading back to the United States, and no other place is this more apparent than the industrial belt of the Upper Midwest, as American companies reshore production from abroad and the electric vehicle (EV) and advanced mobility revolution flourishes in the nation’s heartland.
Michigan has responded to this shift with a unique initiative to help companies tap into its tremendous pool of engineering, software and overall technology talent — and to promote the creation of R&D and manufacturing magnets to attract others to a state that is becoming the unchallenged leader of America’s transition to a new era of mobility.
The Talent Action Team (TAT) is piloting unprecedented recruitment efforts in a public-private partnership with 15 major Michigan employers, public universities, community colleges and state government agencies. Eight of the 15 companies pledged to network with and consider making job offers to students in the Michigander EV Scholars program: Bosch, Denso, Ford, LG Energy Solution (LGES), Mahle, Our Next Energy (ONE), Shape and ZF; the other employers are focused on promoting opportunities within their enterprises to non-student prospective job seekers who are currently working or interested in EV-related careers.
The Michigander EV Scholars program awards scholarships of up to $10,000 to as many as 350 top tech students who agree to stay and work for one of the companies for 12 months in the Great Lakes State.
The new initiative proved timely when ONE recently decided to make a $1.6-billion investment in Michigan’s Van Buren Township to build an EV-battery gigafactory.
“Talking with the Talent Action Team was the first conversation we had following our decision to site our factory here, and it’s very indicative of the philosophy of the state,” says Deeana Ahmed, vice president of strategy, policy and sustainability for ONE, which is also headquartered in Novi, Michigan. “They care about, ‘How do we bring more jobs here to Michigan?’ and are doing this, instead of feeling a loss of jobs from the transition to electrification.”
The TAT has even piqued engagement and appreciation from industrial leaders who haven’t yet determined exactly how to access its benefits. “As we try to switch from being a traditional Tier 1 [automotive] supplier and get into new technologies, it’s difficult to find the talent to do that,” says Mark Rakoski, vice president of advanced engineering at Mitsubishi Electric, based in Northville, Michigan. “Not only are these people hard to find, but when you do, you’re competing with everyone else in the automotive ecosystem in Detroit.”
This kind of instant understanding and engagement was exactly what leaders of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) had in mind when they hatched and developed the TAT concept last year. Michigan has rapidly emerged as the overall national leader in EV and battery development and manufacturing investments, with more than $14 billion committed by companies in 2022 alone; the MEDC recognized that its talent infrastructure must deliver on the skills and backgrounds required to support this new industrial revolution in the state.
“We needed to create a bold approach to develop and deliver talent specific to Michigan’s economic future,” explains Kerry Ebersole Singh, MEDC’s executive vice president and chief talent solutions and engagement officer. “The Talent Action Team initiative also supports our overall mobility strategy, our support of emerging technology entrepreneurs in the state, and our strong play for R&D and manufacturing investments in microchip production that are coming to the Upper Midwest.
“And this is about action and doing, not about just planning and pointing folks in the right direction. We’re here at MEDC to partner with companies to help customize and deliver specific solutions to them.”
In fact, MEDC also just announced a second initiative aimed at supporting the state’s jobs of the future, in the form of the Michigan Semiconductor Talent Action Team, which plans industry-specific curricula, scholarships and awareness efforts similar to those begun with TAT.
The Michigander EV Scholars will help fill participating employers’ annual demand for 500 to 600 electrical engineers and software developers. “At our corporate headquarters,” says Ahmed, “about 20% of our workforce is interns. We’re able to bring young people in and give them exposure and experience and a natural transition, and you can hire those people. The EV Scholars program is aligned with that philosophically, and we’re excited about that pipeline.”
TAT emphasizes nurturing talent in four specific areas that comprise about two-thirds of the manufacturers’ hiring needs this year: electrical engineering, software development, first-line supervisors and production technicians and line workers.
“We sat down with companies and reviewed their internal labor forecasts, hiring plans for this year and for the next five years,” Singh explains. “That allows us to work with our education and training partners to help right-size and tailor the pipeline. Maybe they need to increase course capacity specifically for electrical engineering, for example, so we help them do that and raise awareness about what’s available. With those labor forecasts we can go to higher ed and talk about what programs they already have and how they might customize to meet these needs.”
MEDC also is marketing “what it now looks like to work in the auto industry” as the technology revolution takes hold, Ebersole Singh says. “It’s a highly sophisticated, advanced scene involving robotics, programing and beyond.”
Launched in March, the TAT seeks to provide an immediate infusion of talented young employees who are pledged to Michigan manufacturers, a timeliness that corporate participants welcome greatly. One reason for the importance of this attribute of the TAT, manufacturing executives say, is that American industry remains behind global competitors in the race to electrify transportation and other sectors of the economy.
“Most manufacturing in the lithium-ion industry, especially, is happening in Asia,” says Bob Lee, president for North America of LGES, a leading global manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries for EVs. “Not a lot of that has taken place yet in the United States, so it’s not a skill set we’ve been building up for the last 20 years, whereas in Japan, Korea and China, they’ve been ramping it up significantly for the last 10 years at least.
“So, there is a critical shortage of skilled people in the United States,” Lee continues. “We’re bringing in the right equipment and processes, and LGES has a pretty good global footprint to apply the lessons learned to our operations in Michigan. Those things are getting ready to make us competitive. But on the people side, we need to build that capability and knowledge. It’s absolutely critical, and it’s the biggest constraint at this point.”
Michigan manufacturers’ demand for a skilled and modern workforce will continue to grow as the production of EVs expands in the years ahead. LGES says it plans to create 1,200 more jobs at its Holland, Michigan plant, for example. ONE projects that its Michigan plant alone will create more than 2,100 jobs, while Ford plans to build the BlueOval Battery Park Michigan, an EV battery manufacturing facility near Marshall, Michigan, and General Motors is overhauling operations such as its assembly plant in Orion Township, Michigan, to produce a new fleet of all-electric vehicles.
That’s why Rakoski wants to bring Mitsubishi Electric in the TAT’s direction. “We are already reaching deeper to establish partnerships and other programs with Michigan universities” such as Michigan Tech, he says. “But we need to do everything we can to compete, so the Talent Action [Team]’s Network makes a lot of sense for us.”