It’s a common refrain these days: You don’t need a university degree to make a good living.
There’s a workforce shortage in the trades. The workforce is getting older without a sufficient supply of young people lined up to take their place. Many high schools are preparing students for standardized tests and college applications, and not so much for careers in dependable, sustaining fields of work.
Community colleges across the state, however, are working to change that.
Robert Feldmaier is the interim dean for Engineering & Advanced Technology at Macomb Community College. Two “mega-trends” he can identify in mobility today are fuel economy and emissions regulations driving the electrification of vehicles, and the development and eventual proliferation of connected and autonomous vehicles.
“A lot of the information we develop for engineering techs rolls into mechanic techs, as well,” he says.
Institutions like Macomb Community College (MCC) are developing a bevy of programs to train the next generation in the trades. And while cultural trends may tell students that they’re supposed to attend universities rather than become mechanics, Feldmaier has a message for today’s students: Tomorrow’s mechanics aren’t yesterday’s mechanics.
We call them “mobility technicians”
As technology drives mobility forward, the next generation of auto workers will need a whole new chest of tools to develop and maintain tomorrow’s vehicles. Let’s call them mobility technicians.
The field includes opportunities in maintenance, development, and manufacturing tech.
“The skill sets technicians need to learn today, they have to understand mechanics but now also electrical systems and IT,” Feldmaier says.
MCC offers a host of opportunities for students to prepare themselves to develop and maintain the future of mobility.
The Electric Vehicle Development Technology certificate program, for instance, is designed to prepare students to become Electric Vehicle Technicians. Such a title can work in a variety of fields, including development, electrical testing, sales support, service, mechanical testing, and manufacturing.
Students that complete the Vehicle Development Technician program earn an Associate of Applied Science. It’s a degree that demonstrates just how multi-faceted today’s workforce must be. Over the course of the degree, students work on electrical, flammable, and high-pressure systems while also writing software programs to acquire data and control test systems.
The school also offers associate degree programs with direct ties to major automotive companies, like the General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program and the FCA Automotive Manufacturing Program.
Each is designed to funnel students into the local workforce, and typically for the major auto companies and their suppliers, Feldmaier says. MCC and its Center for Advanced Automotive Technology is funded by the National Science Foundation and its Advanced Technological Education program to help develop the curriculums.
“There is a lot of interest,” Feldmaier says. “But the main challenge is getting students to get on board and convincing their parents that you don’t need a four-year degree to have a well-paying career.”
One way in which MCC is achieving that is through its annual Auto STEAM Days event, which promotes education in automotive, science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics, and manufacturing. The two-day exhibition exposes students to careers in automotive design, robotics, and advanced manufacturing and the exciting technologies driving each. Over 20 companies and prospective employers are on hand as students walk from table to table, learning about each.
Of course, programs such as these aren’t just important to those graduating from high school. As technologies change, so too must the existing workforce.
“The industry needs these people and local workers,” says Feldmaier.
“A lot of our workforce development comes in continuing education. It’s very important, as well.”
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Photos courtesy of Macomb Community College