LTU President Sobh leads Integr8 sessions on workforce development, talent

SOUTHFIELD—Lawrence Technological University President Tarek Sobh appeared on two afternoon sessions Tuesday at Integr8, the Industry 4.0 conference staged by Automation Alley at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

In an LTU-sponsored roundtable discussion, “Innovative Pathways to Industry 4.0 Talent,” leaders from education, training, and business brainstormed ideas for the skills schools should be teaching to develop the work force of the future.

Speaking with Sobh on the panel were Alycia Meriweather, deputy superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District; Peter Provenzano, Chancellor of Oakland Community College; and Christelle Keefer, global product manager for robotics education at ABB Robotics.

Writing their thoughts on whiteboards, five tables of attendees agreed that training in the skills needed for modern manufacturing—the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics—should begin as early as possible, down to first grade. And it should be made into hands-on games and projects—fun things, not just more classroom time—whenever possible. Teaching coding with toy robots was one example of how to demystify technology and make it more relatable to young minds.

Such programs must also meet students where they are, meaning the programs must be easy for parents to get their kids to and conveniently scheduled.

Attendees also suggested that universities make it easier to match up with employers to deliver sponsored research. That’s a process many companies aren’t familiar with and don’t know where to start, attendees said.

Sobh, for his part, predicted that the future would be “;highly technological and interdisciplinary,” pointing to his own experience as a robotics engineer needing to learn anatomy and physiology to work on prosthetic limbs. He also predicted that jobs and activities involving manual labor and limited cognition would soon disappear in favor of having autonomous systems and robots powered by artificial intelligence doing the work.

And in terms of higher education, Sobh predicted that professional development certifications, micro credentials and continuing education would become more important,
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Sobh also joined Carey DeWitt, shareholder at the Detroit law firm Butzel Long, for a breakout session on “Hiring and Retaining the Best Talent.” Sobh and DeWitt reviewed a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts for hiring and retention of quality employees. The major points:

* Determine in advance the characteristics of the ideal candidate — skills vs. qualifications and credentials.
* Multidisciplinary skills are often desirable
* Look for people who are not afraid of change and new circumstances.
* Tell employees how you will evaluate their success and what the performance metrics will be from the get-go.
* Recognize that hiring also involves selling an employer to the potential employee, not just evaluating the candidates.
* Call references before getting close to a final decision
* Recognize that the best hire is not always the best interviewee.

Sobh said employers should look for employees who are not afraid to get outside their comfort zone.

As for retention, Sobh and DeWitt said the best employers recognize good performance generously and immediately–and also deal immediately with employees with performance problems, offering them training or perhaps even a change in supervision.

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is one of only 13 private, technological, comprehensive doctoral universities in the United States. Located in Southfield, Mich., LTU was founded in 1932, and offers more than 100 programs through its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, Engineering, and Health Sciences. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best in the Midwest colleges. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

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