Michigan tech industries 'promising'

Expert stresses state builds strong STEM pipeline for students.

November 11, 2016
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Michigan’s advanced industries have a promising future, but education in the state has to improve.

That was the message attendees of the first Manufacturing Technology xChange conference, hosted by The Right Place and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center-West, received Nov.9.

Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings Institute, was the daylong conference’s first speaker, and he spoke for an hour about Michigan’s advanced industries sector, specifically, the area of manufacturing.

“We have you as a top performer in the country on job growth in this space,” Muro said as he opened his remarks.

He noted 39 million jobs are supported nationally by advanced industries, calling these industries the “crux of the economy.”

“Michigan is the true epicenter in the nation for this kind of high value employment,” he said.

He said right now, Michigan’s advanced industries sectors are healthy and significant and have a great opportunity for growth into the future if businesses and the state can capitalize on their inherent advantages.

He noted while manufacturing growth has slowed nationally, Michigan is growing by more than 4.6 percent.

“Grand Rapids is one of the places that is seeing a resilience in a difficult decade,” he added.

Muro said another piece of good news is while a lot of emphasis has been placed on skilled labor, at least half of the employment opportunities in the advanced industries sectors will not require an advanced degree or, even in some cases, a bachelor’s degree.

“That is an economy we’d like to have in America,” Muro noted.

He said there are three key strategies that will determine Michigan’s success in the future.

The state must “commit to innovation,” which he said means “expanding basic and applied research, building research specializations aligned with industry needs and seeking to maximize the commercial impact of innovation activities.”

The state also must “embrace the ecosystem,” by “focusing on bottom up regional economic development, aiding and abetting the emergence of local clusters and creating greater networking and collaboration hubs,” specifically with a focus on startups and entrepreneurs.

It also will have to develop a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pipeline, particularly teaching students digital and coding skills.

This could be Michigan’s biggest challenge.

Muro said the way science and math have been taught isn’t working and will have to change if students are going to be prepared for advanced industries jobs of the future, which will be highly digital.

He said the answer is providing greater hands-on experiences at a younger age, as well as more boot camps, immersion programs and apprenticeship opportunities for older students and adults.

“A lot of people can learn enough coding in community colleges to be successful in advanced manufacturing,” Muro said.

“The United States has had a bias towards college for everyone and conventional classroom experiences, so we have a lot of work today to make it practical, compelling and dynamic.”

He said “practical, industry relevant and immersive” education is a must.

He also said manufacturers need to open their doors more to students, even those still in elementary school, to get them excited about what is being developed and built in their communities.

He said, while in the past, manufacturing wasn’t necessarily exciting or competitive worldwide, that isn’t the case today. He said manufacturers can attract their future workforce by showing them how they are focused on changing the world. He noted things like drones, driverless cars, the internet of things and advanced materials sciences are cool and have the power to engage students, manufacturers just need to introduce them to what they are doing.

“These industries are now competitive, and they are offering a good opportunity for young people,” he said.

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