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Local News / Automotive

Saturday, 7 May, 2011 2:15 AM

Green jobs in the automotive industry require additional training

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Dr. Leah Jamieson, dean of the college of engineering at Purdue University, addresses the Driving Change Conference on May 4, 2011.

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

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DEARBORN, Mich. -- The economies in the tri-state region of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are heavily based on the automotive industry. During the last recession, automotive companies were downsizing their workforce. Now, there are new technologies, production efficiencies and changing product lines to beat global competitors. The same companies that were once cutting jobs are now hiring "green" workers. A conference titled "Driving Change: Greening the Automotive Workforce" was held to discuss that very topic at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich.

"There is an increased demand for more fuel efficient HVAC systems," said Dr. Timothy Slaper, a research director at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. "The demand for electrical engineers is strong. Workers are most happy doing similar things as before."

The introduction of new powertrains, such as electric vehicles (Chevrolet Volt and Ford Electric Focus) has created the need for green jobs The need to make vehicles lighter for improved fuel economy is very high. While steel is very popular in the U.S., alternative materials will be needed for the vehicles of the future. In-vehicle technologies are increasing at a rapid rate. Right now, electronics represent 25 percent of a vehicle. But in the future, it will grow to 40 percent.

"General Motors has invested $700 million in Michigan," said Randall Champagne, a hybrid battery system engineer at General Motors Company. "We are also hiring 1,000 engineers for the development of electrical vehicles. They need a new skill set. They all have to have enthusiasm for this growing area. We want people that have breaking ideas. Not just show the certificate, but go the extra mile."

Displaced or laid off workers cannot simply apply and get these jobs. Workers for these new "green" jobs will have to be retrained by attending a community college, trade school or with on-the-job training. Right now, over 60 percent of automotive workers only have a high school education. Colleges and universities are scrambling to put together new curriculums to allow their students to work on the vehicles of tomorrow.

"We're seeing a lot of growth in entrepreneurship activities," said Dr. Leah Jamieson, dean of the college of engineering at Purdue University. "In 10 years, 90 percent of what an engineer knows will be on the computer. We better not be educating our students in a technology bubble. We are seeing significant growth on courses on systems thinking and systems design. We take 1,800 engineering students and have them do designs as first-year students. Co-ops and internships continue to be important for students to have industry experience."

Jamieson added: "Solar racing is engaging our students. We're hosting a national grand prix race this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We're developing a Master's degree in energy storage systems to be offered at Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center."

In Michigan, 32 percent of future training needs will be in a formal setting while only 21 percent of training in Indiana will be formal. Data on the state of Ohio has not been released yet, however it is expected to be more like Michigan than Indiana. Michigan is heavy on engineering, design, testing and headquarters jobs. Meanwhile, automotive jobs in Indiana are mostly for parts production.

"The biggest changes are not for the hourly worker," said Brad Markell, an international representative for the UAW. "They're for the engineer. We're very supportive of the skills training. We need good managers. A chance for better management up and down the supply chain. It's a different product, but the skill set is the same. Three weeks of on-the-job training is provided at GM in Brownstown. The pace of change is increasing. Most auto workers of the future are auto workers already."

Markell added: "We need a training model a lot like the Japanese model. You don't lay them off, you train them when there's a new product. There may be new hard skills. The soft skill set is the same. There's a big gap in perfect worker and content on the floor. I would urge employers to think about what's happening on the job floor. Training needs should flow from shop floor."

"Hiring is accelerating," said Rick Waclawek, director of the office of labor market information at the State of Michigan. "Job recovery is starting to turn the corner. With Help Wanted OnLine, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio is seeing an increase by 10 percent in online job ads. That is a 37 percent increase from last year."

The consortium for this study included Indiana Workforce Development, Michigan Technology, Management & Budget, Ohio Department of Job and Family Systems, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Center for Automotive Research (CAR) and Case Western Reserve University. Funding for the research was provided by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor.

"Ann Arbor generally does better than Michigan as a whole," said Amy Cell, senior vice president of talent enhancement at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. "Future jobs are not with large companies. We created a four-month developmental program. You need to take responsibility and understand you can make a difference. Launching in July are training programs in Lansing and other areas. A great opportunity for a start-up to get access to these people."

Related Story: Automotive CEO's say the industry has turned a corner; Big three automakers are profitable, but need to stay competitive, experts say

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Dr. Timothy Slaper, a research director at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, speaks at the conference.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

"Solar racing is engaging our students," Jamieson said. "We're hosting a national grand prix race this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We're developing a Master's egree in energy storage systems to be offered at Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center."

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Electric vehicles have created a new propulsion category

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

A build-up video of the Chevrolet Volt.

 

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