After a long economic downturn, Michigan has begun to bounce back in manufacturing, building on its long history as the nation’s leading automotive manufacturing hub. In continuing IMT Career Journal’s series highlighting programs and initiatives to help the U.S. manufacturing sector create good jobs, we look at a few programs that are preparing Michigan’s manufacturing workforce.
For more than a century, Michigan has been the central location of the U.S. automotive industry, with the Big Three automakers headquartered in Detroit, long known as the Motor City. The state’s auto industry has always been one of the largest economic driving forces for the country.
Yet even before the Great Recession took an enormous toll on manufacturing, Michigan had suffered a unique economic erosion, due in no small part to sizable hits taken by motor vehicle manufacturers, which are disproportionately located in the state.
“From 2000 to 2010, Michigan lost 423,000 factory jobs, or 47 percent of its manufacturing workforce,” the Detroit News recently reported. “The loss was heaviest in the automotive industry but impacted nearly every other sector as well. These were for the most part good-paying jobs, with excellent benefits and working conditions, and sustained the state’s middle class.”
After the decade-long hammering, the state’s manufacturing recovery is doing better than many might expect.
Between December 2009 and March 2013, Michigan led the nation in creating new manufacturing jobs. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and CNBC, Michigan posted a net gain of 88,100 jobs during the period, far and away outpacing second-ranked Texas, which created 57,500 new manufacturing jobs during the period.
Manufacturing currently employs more than half a million workers across Michigan, or nearly one out of every six private-sector jobs, according to a 2013 report from the state’s workforce development agency. While Michigan is characterized by the prevalence of domestic automakers, the state’s economy is not hinged solely on the automotive industry, meaning that its manufacturing base isn’t just being restored by the automakers.
Today, the Great Lakes State is home to the manufacture of a diverse set of industries beyond automobiles, with sizable employment in metals, machinery, food and beverage, plastics and rubber products, bioscience, furniture, chemical products, and computer and electronic products.
According to the 2013 Michigan Manufacturers Directory, an industrial directory published annually by Manufacturers’ News Inc., transportation equipment ranks number one in the state for industrial employment (131,274 jobs, up 4.3 percent in 2012), followed by industrial machinery and equipment (120,541 manufacturing jobs, up 1.9 percent) and fabricated metals (77,192 industrial jobs, up about 0.3 percent). Meanwhile, other manufacturing industries in Michigan are adding jobs, including textiles/apparel (up 5.7 percent in 2012), rubber/plastics (4.3 percent), and furniture/fixtures (2.4 percent).
Given Michigan’s mix of growing industries, in addition to its recovering auto industry, manufacturing therein remains vital to the state’s economy. But, like with other manufacturing locales across the country, a shortage of skilled workers continues to be a top concern for Michigan’s manufacturers.
“Sixty-two percent of Michigan manufacturers report experiencing great difficulty in maintaining production levels due to workforce shortages and employee skill deficiencies,” Delaney McKinley, director of human resource policy at the Michigan Manufacturers Association, told IMT Career Journal. “While Michigan is topping the nation in manufacturing job growth with more than 88,000 new manufacturing jobs created over the last three years, our members are still on the hunt for talent.”
According to Amy Cell, senior vice president of of talent enhancement for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the biggest areas of concern right now are engineering, information technology — computer programming, in particular — and skilled trades. She told IMT Career Journal that these competencies “are also in demand in other industries beyond manufacturing.”
Both McKinley and Cell cited a number of skilled-trades professions that are highly sought after by employers today, including CNC machinists, welders, tool makers, quality control technicians, and mechanical and industrial engineers.
“There are currently about 7,000 job vacancies in Michigan’s manufacturing sector, and that number will continue to grow as we begin to see the retirement of the 19.9 percent of our workforce that is over 55 years old,” McKinley said.
As Michigan’s manufacturing sector continues to rebound and excess labor supply begins to dwindle, employers and other stakeholders will need to use creative strategies in attracting younger workers to replace the experienced incumbent workforce and ensure the state’s manufacturing future.
Here we look at a selection of programs and efforts in Michigan that are helping the state meet the demand for a highly skilled talent pool.
Offered by the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association, the Academy for Manufacturing Careers (AMC) training program is a nationally recognized skilled-trades-related technical instruction apprenticeship program. Designed to meet the needs of manufacturers across south-central Michigan, AMC training raises the level of skills and proficiency to the currently employed, retools the unemployed for current in-demand jobs. The program provides training for tool and die makers, CNC machinists, machine builders, welders, moldmakers, and more.
Administered by the MEDC, the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT²) program combines classroom instruction with paid on-the-job learning. Participants work at participating employers for six to nine weeks and then are in class for another six to nine weeks, and shuttle back and forth in a three-year, no-cost program in the field of mechatronics, a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer technology, and IT. “By the end of three years, they would have earned an associate’s degree that’s been completely paid for by the employer and have been getting paid throughout the process,” the MEDC’s Cell explained to IMT Career Journal. “They have an associate’s degree that they could use toward earning a bachelor’s degree or higher. They are in a great position, with a skill set that is in high demand.”
Aiming young, the Shop Rat Foundation’s mission is to advance the skilled trades and manufacturing industries by encouraging Michigan youth to build unique projects from concept to completion. The nonprofit’s education program utilizes a project-based curriculum to reinforce the comprehension of STEM concepts, while nurturing interest in the skilled trades and manufacturing. The program has expanded to include workshop opportunities focused on engineering, environmentally conscious manufacturing/construction, and an all-female manufacturing camp.
In addition to these three efforts, there are a number of other training programs and internships to ensure that Michigan’s current and future industrial workforce will meet the state’s growing manufacturing needs.
Read additional IMT Career Journal Initiative Spotlight Series features: