Engineering Is 'Pure Michigan'

Did you know that Michigan has more engineers per capita than any other state in the nation?

That's a fact that could soon be trumpeted nationwide in the style of the state's "Pure Michigan" tourism campaign, if Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) gets their way. The group has been studying ways to grow Michigan's economy, based on the state's existing assets.

In a report released today, the BLM calls for championing Michigan as a hotbed for engineers. Or, as they put it, "a Global Engineering Village."

You may have heard that there's a nationwide shortage of skilled professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM fields). Based on my experience talking to manufacturers on the front lines, I believe this is a serious problem that is limiting our nation's ability to grow.

But some places, such as Michigan, are standouts in the STEM fields, with a high concentration of just the types of high-end technical skill and knowledge that businesses are so desperately seeking.

When it comes to engineering, in particular, few places outrank Michigan, which is heavily bolstered by the automotive industry. Michigan is in the top five for the number of engineering firms and engineering patents awarded, in addition to engineers per capita. And, just to drive home how deep the nationwide shortage of engineers is, even Michigan "still suffers from a shortage of engineers with specific job qualifications to meet employer needs," according to the BLM report.

But if Michigan can bolster its image as an engineering hotbed, the economic rewards could be plentiful as companies chase the limited national pool of talent in this area.

SME, which promotes STEM fields and knowledge regardless of borders, was just one of the organizations that helped develop the plan to enhance Michigan's engineering chops. Among the others: the American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan, Meritor, Inc., Steelcase, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and the Engineering Society of Detroit.

Among the specific recommendations:

  • Actively promote Michigan's existing engineering prowess in a marketing and branding campaign.
  • Actively work to recruit and retain engineers. This would include developing an engineering-specific component for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's out-of-state talent attraction program.
  • Develop a program to allow international students to obtain green cards, so they can stay in Michigan and work.
  • Develop training programs that help engineers gain specialized expertise in high-demand engineering areas and update their knowledge.
  • Encourage businesses to offer part-time project work for retired engineers, who are plentiful in Michigan.
  • Develop an ecosystem for engineers similar to what Palo Alto offers entrepreneurs to ensure they have the support they need to innovate and grow new businesses.
  • Strengthen Michigan's education system in STEM disciplines, with a special emphasis on engineering.
  • Encourage businesses and universities to offer more co-op and internship opportunities.
  • Identify and aggressively pursue hosting the top national engineering and engineering-related conferences.

Reading the BLM's recommendations, it is clear that this is a worthwhile project that must involve business, government, education and civic leaders and could hold the key to years of rewards.

At Manufacturing Engineering, we cover a wide range of US manufacturing industries -- aerospace and defense, medical devices and equipment, motorized vehicles of all kinds (not just cars!) and energy, from solar panels and wind turbines to oil and gas.

While Michigan manufacturers touch all of those industries, there's a lot of room to develop and grow STEM talent outside of the automotive sector.

Just a few weeks ago, for example, I was visiting Beaver Aerospace & Defense, a thriving manufacturer based in Livonia that is doing critically important work for companies such as Boeing and the U.S. Air Force. Beaver is eagerly looking to hire highly-skilled talent so that it can increase production. It was quite inspiring to see the way they are using new manufacturing technologies to develop parts for planes that are greener and more energy-efficient than ever before.

Engineering talent, in my view, is Pure Michigan -- It's an asset as commercial-worthy as the state's snow, trees and Great Lakes.

This article first appeared in Manufacturing Engineering Media.