"We have to raise the stakes and kick this into an accelerated drive," said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MichAuto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives at the Detroit Regional Chamber. "As the shop floor continues to change, as the convergence of auto and tech coalesces, we have to ask ourselves what are we doing to make sure we're attracting, retaining and creating talent. Our economic future depends on it."
Stevens' organization will attempt to tackle the subject of new talent at its annual MichAuto Summit on Dec. 5-6, engaging the region's top leaders to discuss mobility culture, innovation and perspectives.
Speakers include: John Karren, partner and leader of U.S. digital workforce transformation for PwC; Chris Thomas, founder and partner of Detroit venture capital firm Fontinalis Partners LLC; Elizabeth Griffith, director of engineering at Faurecia Interior Systems; Musa Tariq, vice president and chief brand officer at Ford; Michael Brosseau, president of Brose North America; and Kristen Tabar, vice president of the technical strategy planning office at Toyota Motor North America; among others.
Toyota has expanded its scope for talent in recent years, Tabar said, seeking new educational backgrounds, from environmental and biomedical engineering to people with degrees in physics, physiology and anthropology.
"Quite frankly, as the industry changes from pure automotive to mobility, the type of technical people we need are limitless," Tabar said. "When we attend career fairs, we're encouraging students of all backgrounds to look at the broader mobility perspective because whatever they're studying, there's a chance that's got a role in the future of automotive. The study of how people move, not just in cars, and how people interact with technology has become critical to our mission."
The region's automotive sector hiring is now more in line with other large industries and their major players as applied liberal arts, or human sciences, are now as essential as technical know-how for creating future products of all kinds.
Google, Apple and Microsoft, for example, are some of the largest employers of anthropologists in the world. Adidas, Nike, Coca-Cola all engage in the human sciences.
Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen, co-founders of New York management consulting firm Red Associates, noted in their 2014 book, "The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems," that the human sciences are changing companies' business models.
"The human sciences address the reality of people's lives at their most complex and, quite frankly, most interesting," the book reads. "Once you truly understanding people's behavior, you will begin to see your business landscape with a new clarity. You will recognize new opportunities and identify the sources of older, seemingly intractable challenges. Such moments won't come easily or neatly -- nothing worthwhile ever does -- but this newfound clarity has the potential to drive the entire strategic future of your company."
Mobility is fundamentally changing the automotive business model, where car culture is less about horsepower and sleek exterior design and more focused on the car's ability to engage, entertain and educate its riders, said Ray Telang, managing partner of PwC's Detroit office.
"Historically, the fit and finish, quality, design and the emotional experience were the deciding factors of car buying," Telang said. "Fast forward 15 years, there's data out there that suggests design becomes a lesser part of the buying experience. Now, when you get into the vehicle you want to know what it can do besides drive."