How to make Detroit the next Silicon Valley

John Billings

When thousands of U.S. manufacturing leaders gather at the Manufacturing in America conference next week, they will see a new, revitalized Detroit. The revival of the Big Three automakers has the region’s advanced manufacturing engine running at full speed.

Manufacturers are adding jobs — more than 3,000 annually, according to a recent study by JPMorgan Chase — but companies are struggling to fill them.

These are positions that pay well enough to open doors into the middle class. But a “skills gap” has been slamming these doors shut for many job-seekers.

At Siemens, we call the skills gap something else. We call it a training gap.

Someone might not inherently have the right skills. But these skills can be learned, and the necessary certifications can be attained, if this person can get connected with the right training program.

This does not require traveling far or earning a four-year degree, either. Detroit-area community colleges and vocational programs can prepare students “for the jobs they need — and that the city needs them to have.” We are impressed by organizations such as SME that are networking higher educators with high school students and manufacturers.

Siemens is playing a role here, too. Our Siemens Cooperates with Education program has partnered with more than 20 of Michigan’s workforce training programs to bring advanced courses and technical training to community colleges, universities, and technical schools. This is helping students at Macomb Community College, Wayne State University, Henry Ford Community College, and many other area schools access industry credentials and hands-on learning.

Siemens is ensuring students have the opportunity to train on equipment used in modern manufacturing operations. Siemens has invested over $2 billion in grants of software and automation hardware to Michigan’s community colleges and universities in recent years.

Companies are leveraging innovative technologies that have been introduced in the last several years to help accelerate the effectiveness and competencies of their workforce. This is enabling these companies to realize higher employee retention, position their companies for the digital revolution, and delivering higher productivity and cost savings. Automakers are investing in software while software companies like Google are continuing to invest in manufacturing hardware.

Detroit could become the next Silicon Valley — but Silicon Valley could also become the next Detroit. As long as our efforts to close training gaps here in Detroit keep up with the innovation behind self-driving cars and car doors that open themselves, those doors into the middle class will stay open for us, too.

John Billings is the vice president and head of Automotive, Aerospace & Turnkey Solutions at Siemens USA.