Electric vehicles boost Michigan’s tech presence, intensify talent competition | #education | #technology | #training


Electric vehicles have wedged Michigan more firmly into the tech industry, but now the state needs enough talent to secure its spot.

The Computing Technology Industry Association ranked Michigan in the top ten states to grow its tech workforce from 2019 to 2020.

When looking at Michigan’s overall workforce, tech accounts for 8.8% of the state’s jobs. Looking at Detroit specifically, tech employment is 11.6% of the city’s workforce.

The intensifying tech talent wars have also boosted Detroit’s salary base in the last year.

The Dice tech salary report placed Detroit in the top ten fastest growing tech hubs by salary competing with cities like Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Chicago. In 2021, technologists in Detroit saw an average salary raise of 10.3%.

Dice, a tech career hub, has compiled an annual report on tech salaries for 17 years. The report notes these emerging tech hubs share well-established business and academic communities driving demand for diverse technology skills.

Related: Michigan tech companies ‘fending off talent competition’ from the West Coast

One sector driving technology needs more than any other in Michigan is the rise electric vehicles.

The auto industry’s focus on autonomous vehicles and smart roads were leapfrogged by electric vehicles in the past two years, said Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit, a regional economic development strategy focused on employing immigrants and international students.

Tobocman attributes this to Biden campaigning on electric vehicles as well as industry announcements and technology advancements. Now that electric vehicles are front of mind for both businesses and consumers, Michigan will need a diverse pool of talent to make it happen.

“The speed by which the industry is moving to electrical vehicles was greatly accelerated,” he said. “It moved into a hot war, if you will, for talent as opposed to a long-term Cold War. The drive has been even more aggressive.”

Related: Michigan’s high-tech industries need foreign workers to drive future growth

Filling that critical talent gap are international students and immigrants.

International students hold the majority across the board in STEM fields. In electric engineering, the majority of full-time graduate students are international students at 88% of the U.S. graduate school programs, according to 2021 analysis of education data from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP).

Zeroing in on Midwest universities, NFAP found international students made up 61% of Michigan State’s computer and information sciences graduate program.

Despite international student enrollment dropping off in the 2020-2021 school year, Michigan remained in the top ten for states drawing in international students. Tobocman said this is to the state’s advantage and industry leaders are taking note.

“We’ve seen a steady drumbeat of the corporate sector industry groups saying that talent is the most important economic strategy we have,” he said. “It’s really where the rubber meets the road for our economic competitiveness as a state.”

Global Detroit runs the Global Talent Retention Initiative connecting Southeast Michigan companies with international students and graduates. Post-pandemic recovery has opened the door for GTRI as more businesses are looking to fill high-skilled positions, Tobocman said.

“Half the people coming out of our educational system are international students and so retaining that talent becomes very important,” he said. “Historically, our region has done a great job educating… but our hiring processes haven’t been as inclusive.”

If employers wants to expand the talent pool to more international students they need to build it into their hiring practices, Tobocman said. In some cases this means visa sponsorship and in others it’s about implicit bias training.

Tobocman said he’s still reminding employers that international students will have resumes that look different from their American counterparts whether that’s in structure or with the previous education and work experience abroad.

Social and cultural cues are still an issue in the workplace, too. Employers have given feedback that international student hires were great fits on a skills level but not socially, Tobocman said.

“When somebody in the corporate sector says ‘They don’t jive well with the teams,’ I think it raises the question, ‘Well, what are you doing at the workplace to make them feel welcome?’” Tobocman said.

Corporations have doubled down on diversity and inclusion and in STEM that focus has been primarily on female and Black technologists. Tobocman said international students need to be considered in that realm as well.

He also noted that his team at Global Detroit are not naïve to how politics factor into workplace culture. Although he sees Michigan businesses embracing immigration reform, Trump’s America First outlook won Michigan in 2016 and still resonated in 2020, Tobocman said.

“It has its popular appeal and talking about global talents sometimes can lead some opposition,” he said. “So the fact that industry leaders have been embracing it, it’s a sign of how important it is. What I think we’re still in the process of doing is dealing with cultural barriers that still exist throughout our corporate sector.”

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