Innovator. Engineer. Designer. Project manager. Architect. Code Poet. Creative Problem Solver. These are all terms that describe many of the various roles for skilled workers, inventors and innovators in the field of emerging transportation technology – including the exciting world of connected and automated vehicles. What do these roles look like and who is involved in helping prepare Minnesota’s workforce for an evolution in how we move?
The Governor’s Advisory Council on Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV Advisory Council) is a 15-member appointed body to help the state plan and prepare for a revolution in connected vehicles, automated vehicles (known as self-driving cars), and other intelligent transportation technologies. Some automated driving technologies are already available and being sold on the market, including in thousands of vehicles in Minnesota. Other technologies in self-driving cars will take decades before they can safely be used in winter climates like Minnesota. The Council launched an Innovation Alliance in 2020 to help the state understand how Minnesota needs to prepare for a technology-driven future, including how to prepare our future workforce for highly-skilled, highly paid jobs in the connected and automated vehicle sector.
One of the fundamental challenges we face is how to talk about these careers in technology to demonstrate the enormous opportunities mobility technology careers offer. Cars, buses, commercial vehicles, trains and scooters are becoming increasingly connected and automated. Twenty years ago, an auto mechanic could use traditional tools like wrenches to maintain vehicles, now we’re seeing a trend in IT skills and software knowledge to help ensure our transportation system moves more safely and smoothly. Even at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the cabs inside snowplows and maintenance vehicles look more similar to the knobs and interfaces of an airplane than a traditional truck, as these vehicles use connected and automated vehicle technologies to keep the roads safe from ice and snow.
So how does the state prepare for this evolution in automation and connectivity? By understanding how to prepare the workforce of the future, including upskilling and reskilling current workers while also inspiring the next generation of future employees. The Labor and Workforce Committee of the Innovation Alliance is partnering with MnDOT, the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and members of the CAV Advisory Council to learn from national experts on how we prepare our workforce for the increasingly complex skills needed for our automated world.
Experts from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Academy and the University of Michigan’s Economic Growth Institute met with Minnesota leaders last year to discuss the opportunities ahead. Many include “mechatronics” skills that combine different skills in mechanical, electrical, electronic, data, software and other systems to understand how to support computers in cars and other technologies. Other opportunities include “micro credentialing” or “micro certifications” where students and workers can learn skills like fabrication and software using at-home kits and remote learning to grow new skills they can carry with them to many different jobs. This increases opportunities for high schoolers as well as seasoned employees who want more hands-on training and skills development.
3D printers can help workers learn about new technologies even in a virtual environment, combining technology skills like robotics with other soft skills like communications, task management, collaboration, and problem-solving – all of which are critical in advancing technology careers. These certifications and trainings help pave the way for advancing jobs as CAV technicians, safety drivers, IT technicians, data analysts, maintenance technicians, and many others in the advancing field of automation and connectivity.
One of the most exciting opportunities in this area is the ability to bring more women and diverse talent into these innovative sectors. Organizations like Women in Autonomy, Women in Innovation and others understand that over 85% of the professionals in these industries are men, even though research shows that more diversity leads to more innovation. This shows the importance of recognizing that software and automation need diverse engineers, analysts and employees involved to avoid things like artificial intelligence bias, which is when prejudices and bias people hold are built into the programs they design as happened with facial recognition technology. This has led innovators in this field like Joy Buolamwini, a self-proclaimed “poet of code”, to advocate for more equitable and accountable technology.
While CAV technologies may still be emerging, job opportunities are available today. A national shortage exists in commercial truck operators, and more and more industries are seeing an increased need in data scientists, data analysts and mechanics who have deeper IT backgrounds to help fill gaps that already exist in the job market. Programs like the University of Minnesota’s “CAV Camp” this summer will help inspire the next generation of tech leaders, while also growing opportunities for workers to find new, enhanced skills. “New ideas in workforce development like micro-credentialing, expanding STEM outreach to include CAV careers, and the ability to upskill and reskill workers will not only grow career opportunities, it will help diversify our workforce and show the next generation of Minnesotans how innovative and inclusive we can be,” noted Advisory Council chair, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Kristin White is Executive Director of the Minnesota Office of Connected and Automated Vehicles in the Department of Transportation. She chairs the National Strategy on Automation, sits on the Transportation Board’s Emerging Technology Law Committee and chairs and ITS America’s Personal Delivery Device Task Force on Emerging Technologies.