Automotive Industry Future will Require Innovation, Advanced STEM Education

Thomas Shaw

David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, in remarks to the Lansing Chamber of Commerce Economic Luncheon and interview with the Lansing Journal, said "the automotive workforce is aging and doesn’t have enough younger talent with skilled trades or expertise in technical fields to replace retiring employees".

"That will be problematic in an industry that has had to adapt to be leaner, more globally competitive and more technologically advanced after surviving what essentially was an economic depression," said Cole, who has spent decades studying the industry as an engineering professor and researcher.

The auto industry is in the midst of a “revolution” that will require increased innovation and more employees with science, technology and engineering backgrounds,

“That’s the auto business today: It’s wild, it’s crazy and if anyone thinks it’s going to settle down — ain’t going to happen.”
Q: You say the auto industry doesn’t have enough new incoming talent as the workforce starts to retire. What’s missing?
A: We don’t really have, for example, young people coming out of K-12 thinking about making things. Manufacturing has not been on the horizon for a lot of young kids. Technology is really a big deal as a part of manufacturing. You can do technology at a very high level but we don’t have the talent in the pipeline.
Q: Who, in particular, should the industry be targeting?
A: We’re extremely short of the people who have some of the analytical skills. We’re particularly short on getting young women (involved). One (strategy) is getting a message to young women. The other is getting a message to kids in urban environments.

General Motors Chief Engineer Anita Burke also weighed in on the need and importance of STEM Education in a recent interview with Fast Lane Magazine.

Vehicle Chief Engineer Anita Burke gave a peek inside her job at General Motors during a chat in back in March in collaboration with National Public Radio (NPR). She shared insight on her background, day-to-day experiences and more throughout the chat.

We caught up with Anita afterwards and asked her a few additional questions about her role at General Motors and how her STEM education contributed to her career path. What we learned is that for Anita, no two days are alike. See below for more.

FastLane: What does a typical day in your current role at GM look like?

Anita Burke: No day is the same and there is absolutely nothing “typical.” Often I start my day with a list of things to complete but more times than not, I have to adapt to a program need that requires my attention – from responding to, observing and gathering information about an emerging situation, to facilitating supplier and manufacturing discussions or strategizing for future product.

The fact that two days are never the same provides a great deal of excitement as well as many opportunities to learn and grow. I love this about my job. There are some days that I spend sitting in a conference room in meetings – a necessary evil required to ensure we make informed decisions.

I’d say that the absolute best part of my job is spending time driving and evaluating our GM Trucks.

FL: Did you always know you wanted to be involved in engineering? If not, how did you get on this track?

AB: I did not always know I wanted to be in engineering. From a very early age, my parents stressed first and foremost the importance of education, followed by the encouragement to ensure I ultimately choose a career that I would love doing every single day. I was always a very inquisitive child and I developed a love of math during early years of school – but it was not visible to me what one could possible do with these passions. It took until my junior year of high school when an astute chemistry teacher opened my eyes to the potential of a future in engineering. At that very time, my older brother was graduating high school and entering into the world of engineering – that double “ah ha” moment sent me on the engineering trajectory.

FL: What’s one thing you think others would be surprised to learn a job in engineering entails?

AB: It is not boring! The potential and wide range of experiences are limitless. No matter how much you think you know, there is always something more to learn or more to do.

FL: What’s something you learned in school that you use in your job but never thought you would?

AB: Engineering fundamentals. Let’s face it… while studying in college, everyone at one point in time did the eye roll as we were taught about basic principles that often worked with assumptions of elements as “massless & frictionless.” How could these simple principles be applied in the real world? At the end of the day, the foundation of my everyday work is based on and grows from the basic engineering fundamentals – it all starts there.  It can include dynamics such as how our trucks ride, handle and perform, the noise and vibration, geometric designs to gain strength while being space and mass efficient, to assembly and manufacturability of parts.

FL: What advice do you have for young women who are interested in careers in engineering?

AB: Be strong, be confident, and be heard!  Be aware what is going on around you. There are learning moments every day… seek them out. No question should go unasked. Do what you love, love what you do.