From scooters to air taxis, a tectonic shift in how people and goods move around is underway. As mobility changes, so do work force needs. The Michigan Mobility Institute, founded in 2018, is attempting to prepare workers for the jobs of the not-too-distant future, bringing together educators, startups and global companies to ensure talent needs are met.
Developing future workers to fuel growth in mobility
This month, co-founder and board Chairman Jessica Robinson, 39, appeared on the Shift mobility podcast to discuss the nonprofit's latest developments and the seismic changes across the transportation landscape. Here are edited excerpts. The entire episode can be found at autonews.com/shiftpodcast.
Q: Michigan Mobility Institute was founded two years ago. How have you seen the mobility world change in that short time, and how has your thinking about the institute evolved?
A: One of the things that's been really encouraging since we launched the institute was continuing to connect with others in the community who see the importance of some of these topics, kind of pushing this conversation forward and partnering with others. What maybe has changed over the past two years is COVID heightened certain areas of technology and pushed their time horizons forward a little bit more. In other cases, it's pushed the timelines further out.
In the past, Detroit has been known as the Arsenal of Democracy. On the website, Michigan Mobility Institute says the city can be the Arsenal of Mobility. What does that mean?
With the Arsenal of Democracy, it was the people that powered the industrial know-how to actually deliver those machines that were very important to us at that part of our history. So, as we think about being the Arsenal of Mobility today, it again starts with people and making sure they're trained and ready. And also making sure that we are not losing sight of where the industry is headed, whether it's something like the arrival of electric vehicle and battery technology or the importance of software.
Who are the partners of Michigan Mobility Institute, and what's the model you are carving out with them?
It's a really exciting model, in the sense that through a convening organization — that's how we think of ourselves here — we can bring various parties together. They bring the expertise to say, "Here's what we need to hire this year, next year, three and five years out." Any one of these companies could have done training like this on their own, but there's a recognition that by doing it together, you're actually kind of pressure-testing what you're designing, and doing it in a way that is a rising-tide, lift-all-ships type of approach. You're expanding the pie, not all poaching from the same talent pool.
When you talk about that collective rising tide helping to create jobs here in this region, what's the competition for that? Silicon Valley? China? How do you frame that?
There's a segment of jobs that have slightly different answers to that. Certainly in the manufacturing centers, those are technician jobs based here in Detroit.
How you address folks working on electric vehicle powertrains has a strong geographic element. What's changed — and especially with this work-from-home environment — is many of the jobs that we're preparing people for are software-based. They don't necessarily have that same baked-in requirement of a hands-on presence.
The startups we're talking to actually have expanded their geographic recruitment area for these jobs. So if there was a requirement that you had to be here in southeast Michigan before, maybe there's not anymore. That's actually a challenge we now have as we think about growing the talent pool here.
If you can go and recruit software people in Austin or Silicon Valley or wherever and they don't have to move, does that really drive economic development and bring the community together here?
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