Led by Jessica Robinson, Michigan Mobility Institute is open for business

This feature is courtesy of Driven, the story of how the Detroit region is leading the world in next-generation mobility.
While OEMs, suppliers, and entrepreneurs are recognizing the explosive growth of automotive mobility, stakeholders in the educational realm are keeping their eyes on building the talent infrastructure that will be needed today and in the very near future.

Jessica Robinson is one such stakeholder. As the newly named and first ever executive director to lead the Michigan Mobility Institute, Robinson is starting the important conversations that will lead to the growth of the talent pipeline.

With a background rich in mobility solutions, Robinson has the knowhow and the passion to lead this new initiative, says Chris Thomas, co-founder and president of Detroit Mobility Lab, the organization that gave birth to the Michigan Mobility Institute. Early funding comes from Boston Consulting Group.Chris Thomas of Detroit Mobility Lab announces the first executive director for the Michigan Mobility Institute

“We are committed to moving aggressively and do everything possible to make sure we have the talented men and women it will require to compete in the global mobility sector,” says Thomas.

During an announcement made at AutoMobili-D at the North American International Auto Show, Robinson spoke of mobility as the “most significant disruption this industry has ever seen” with the commercialization of autonomous vehicles, the increase in connectivity, and the rise in electrification.

“Next generation mobility requires a very different type of person that can tackle a different set of technology,” says Robinson. Instead of the single-focus engineering approach that has been successful in the development of legacy vehicles, future mobility will need “cross-functional tinkerers” who are comfortable with software, artificial intelligence, data, robotics and cybersecurity, and who can apply systems thinking to their work.

And it’s not just about what new skills are being learned, but the number of people learning them. “We must accelerate the base of people who are receiving these new skills,” says Robinson.

Talent deficits across all levels of mobility development

New research shows that mobility will create 100,000 new jobs in the next decade, including 30,000 people working specifically in computers and software development. Demand outpaces current supply by six times the number of advanced level engineers we need to fuel the growth.

What’s more, says Robinson, traditional technology sectors are competing for the same talent.

In addition to the need for advanced-level engineers, the need for skilled trades will increase, with 65,000 new jobs being created in the next 10 years for AV technicians, maintenance, safety drivers, fleet management technology, and AV remote support centers.

“If Detroit wants a place at this table, we must signal at this critical juncture in time,” says Robinson, sharing strides already being made in Pittsburgh, Vancouver, and Silicon Valley. “The work is not optional.”

In addition to world class educational institutions and mobility-focused testing facilities already here in Michigan, there is more need for specialized support and training for our workforce.

This is where the Michigan Mobility Institute comes in. “Our goal is to be the leading industry backed talent development entity focused on the future of mobility,” she says, adding that the institute will build the brightest new talent and retrain already skilled people for a new focus, provide executive training for workforce transformation, and attract the highest-level global researchers. In addition, the institute will support skilled trades development by assisting community colleges develop additional mobility-focused curricula.

The Master of Mobility degree

While some may believe that the institute is poised to duplicate efforts of other organizations already doing this work, Robinson says that dozens of conversations at various levels of the industry provided definitive answers. Employers say they can’t find the talent they need, and that potential candidates do not understand what a career in mobility can mean for them, and there simply aren’t enough people entering and staying in the pipeline.

Finally, the institute will offer a master’s level degree specific to the mobility industry.

The Michigan Mobility Institute plans to create the first-of-its-kind Master of Mobility degree,” says Robinson. “Together with select university partners, we will found strong support for a nine- to 12-month program in a degree that would better prepare individuals with systems-level understanding of key technologies like software development, AI, and data. Students will have hands-on learning experience with internships, apprenticeships, and industry projects similar to those in business schools…. These individuals will be purpose-trained to lead next-generation mobility.”

With Detroiters being the first in the world to develop mobility skills along all levels of the workforce continuum, and for employers to engage with a much-needed diverse workforce, Robinson points to a long term opportunity to create a “virtuous cycle” of growth and development to impact the future.

“People take jobs with manufacturers and suppliers, they leave to start their own companies, they become suppliers themselves, they get acquired, they teach, they invest, and they do it all again. It’s our strong preference that we can bring Detroiters first through these programs.”

It’s all starting now, said Robinson.

“The Michigan Mobility Institute is open for business. Let’s build something great together.”

Visit Driven and learn how the Detroit region is leading the world in next-generation mobility.