Industry faces shortage of engineers

By LACEE SHEPARD

Capital News Service

LANSING—The need for engineers in the state is rising, yet the amount of available skilled workers remains low.

That’s true even though Michigan has the most industrial and mechanical engineers in the country.

Michigan’s manufacturing jobs dwindled during the economic downturn but are bouncing back, according to Michigan Industry Cluster Workforce Reports.

“The economy is coming back. There are a lot more manufacturing jobs out there. Those manufacturing jobs now need skilled workers versus the unskilled positions we had before,” said Mike Rudisill, department head and associate professor of engineering technology at Northern Michigan University.

“We see a huge demand for graduates to have computer and control (C&C) experience – we have one of the few programs that put our engineers with real C&C programming.”

Universities like Northern Michigan are seeing an increase in number of students studying mechanical engineering.

“Mechanical is the most popular right now, but it’s not by a huge amount,” said Rudisill. Northern has about 80 electrical and just under a 100 mechanical engineering students now.

Mechanical engineering enrollment has risen in the past four years. Electrical engineering used to be more popular, said Rudisill.

For every 10 job openings, manufacturers are able to find only four or five qualified workers, said Doug Smith, senior vice president of strategic partnerships and governmental affairs at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). About 40 percent of the jobs are being filled.

Although many Michigan universities offer these types of programs, the skills gap is still significant and it may be because they don’t prepare students properly, said Ron Brenke, executive director of the Michigan division of American Council of Engineering Companies

“Our universities in Michigan are frankly second to none. They produce amazing engineering students who are technically very sound when it comes to their technical abilities,” said Brenke.

However, he said, “the universities don’t teach the whole business aspects of engineering, business and communication. You have to be able to communicate the ideas that you have.”

With more than 87,000 engineers the state has more available skilled labor than any other state, according to the MEDC.

Even so the job market needs more.

The shortage is found all over Michigan, said Smith.

Much of the problem is evident in the Detroit area due to the large number of manufacturers there, Smith said.

“In Kalamazoo or Battle Creek you’ll find the same thing where you have a manufacturer seeking skilled workers but can’t find the party with the experience and the skill set,” said Smith.

The tool and die industry is the poster child for the shortage, said Smith. In that industry many workers are reaching retirement age and there aren’t enough replacements coming up through the ranks, so companies have even more vacancies, he said.

“Tool and die is just one example but it’s really across the board,” said Smith. “Anywhere in manufacturing they’re missing workers.

Brenke said many engineers left in 2007-08 when the economy was down. Now that Michigan has available jobs, manufacturing companies are trying to bring them back.

Resources for CNS Editors:

Michigan Economic Development Corp

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