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Talking Talent - January 2024

Message from Jennifer Weot

Jennifer Weot

I hope that your 2024 is off to a great start! As we head into a new calendar year, I want to take a moment to say “Thank You” to all of the businesses out there that have given their time and effort to support the 21 school districts of Macomb County in 2023. You have offered the students here the chance to experience your career field and expose them to careers they may have known nothing about until now. I am sure that you have inspired some to consider your field for future employment and career opportunities. Once again, Fueling the Talent Pipeline for your industry and Macomb County.

There have been many events this year where businesses have come together to expose the students to the industry. Here are two big ones to mention:

  • MFG Day - In October, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of MFG Day in Macomb County. Thank you to the 64 manufacturing companies who offered a total of 74 tours to over 1,700 high school students. What an amazing collaboration and what a great way to expose the future workforce to modern manufacturing!!
  • MiCareerQuest Southeast - After a three year break due to COVID, MiCareerQuest Southeast returned to the Novi Suburban Showplace. This event is the largest career exploration event in Southeast Michigan with approximately 8,000 students participating. Businesses in health care, modern manufacturing, construction and technology were all present, offering students the opportunity to explore these fields by physically getting involved in them. Students were learning how to perform tonsillectomies, draw blood, lay bricks, build houses, program robots, drive fire trucks, use the Da Vinci Robotic surgery system and so much more. You know the students were engaged because the only time I saw their cell phones out was to take pictures/videos.

Along with these two very large events, multiple school districts have had guest speakers from industry come in to meet the students. There were multiple career fairs, advisory board meetings, industry tours, job shadows and internships/work based learning opportunities. 

Thank you again to all those businesses who offered to get involved. What a great way for you to expose the students to your industry, and who knows, they may be working for you someday. If you are a business owner and would like to fuel your future workforce, feel free to reach out to me at I can get you connected.

Business partners needed for job shadows

If you’re not familiar with the Ford Next Generation Learning districts in Macomb County, you need to be. These two school districts (Center Line and Romeo) are doing amazing things to make sure that their students are career and college ready when they graduate from high school. They are looking for business partners in order to make this happen. As you look to the future and wonder where your future workforce is going to come from, here is an opportunity to help cultivate your own workforce by fueling their interest in your career field.

As students enter the 9th grade at both Romeo and Center Line high schools, they will complete lots of career exploration. At the end of their 9th grade year, these students chose a specific “Academy” and “Pathway” that they would like to pursue. It is basically like choosing a major and a minor in college. These students then attend classes in 10th through 12th grade that are specifically geared towards their chosen area of interest.

At this time, both districts are focused on getting every single student in the 11th grade a job shadow. This is how you can help these students and expose them to what your career field has to offer.

The students are paired together, based on their career interests. They look to interact with professionals on the job while observing and gaining an understanding of what a“day in the life” is like. The job shadow typically lasts 3-5 hours. Not only does this opportunity give the students a chance to see if the career field is truly a good match for them. It also gives you as a business a chance to learn more about the students and their motivation. One of the best reasons for getting involved in job shadows is because if there is a match made, the student will have an opportunity to complete an internship during their 12th grade year. Why not have them intern with you? That internship could lead to something more.

If your business is interested in job shadow opportunities, please reach out to me at

Macomb County celebrates its 10th anniversary of MFG Day, looks ahead to 2024 event

MFG Day Week 2023

October 2-6, 2023 marked the 10th anniversary of Manufacturing Day in Macomb County and we celebrated by making it bigger than ever!

Manufacturing Day or MFG Day is celebrated across the nation on the first Friday in October. This national celebration started 11 years ago and Macomb County joined the following year. The goal of this event is to show our future workforce that the modern world of manufacturing is completely different from the environment grandpa used to work in. With technology, these facilities are cleaner, greener and safe. 

Modern manufacturing sites in Macomb County are matched up with high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that offer related classes. These businesses open their doors and tour students through the facility. Typically there are various stations where the students have an opportunity to learn about the field by getting involved through hands-on activities. 

After 10 years of offering this event in collaboration with the Macomb Intermediate School District, Macomb County has become the largest participant in the nation. In 2023, we had a total of 64 businesses participate, offering 74 total tours to over 1,700 students! That is a lot of exposure to the industry!

Believe it or not, we are going to start preparing for 2024 soon. Watch for information through emails and social media articles and if your modern manufacturing business would like to get involved this year, feel free to reach out to or

Q&A: KUKA Systems North America discusses their future talent strategy 

Apprentices at a facility win a safety and environmental award.

KUKA Systems North America is a leading international supplier of design and assembly tooling automation for industrial and automotive applications. Based in Germany and established in Sterling Heights in 1981, KUKA employs more than 1,500 local workers. The company has long been committed to fueling the talent pipeline, working to build connections with high schools and colleges through Manufacturing Day, AUTOSteam Days, student visits, co-op experiences and summer internship opportunities. KUKA has also created two successful in-house training programs - including Kickstart Academy and the PLC Programming Academy. Notably, nearly 200 individuals have completed the programs.  

For these reasons, KUKA was recently awarded the Trailblazer of Future Talent recognition at the 2023 Macomb Business Awards. So we asked Jennifer Husby, vice president / head of human resources – Americas region for KUKA, to answer several questions about their talent strategy so you can learn from their experience. 

Q: Your organization provides workplace experience to young people (high school/college) interested in manufacturing. What types of programming/activities do you have in place?

A: KUKA designed a program to open the door and encourage young talent to experience the skilled trade positions that keep the automation and production industry moving forward. KUKA’s Kickstart Academy is an 18-week on-the-job paid training program for high school graduates. The first 12 weeks includes a basic introduction to all three primary skilled trades (Electrician, Pipefitter, Machine Builder) and focuses on the essential skills required to be successful in each job. The second six weeks allows them to dedicate their focus on the skilled trade they enjoyed the most. This phase provides a deeper dive into the essential duties of the job. Each phase includes hands-on practical experience and mentoring by the KUKA team. These critical positions follow the installation of equipment during all phases from build within a KUKA facility to tear down and install at a customer plant. Upon successful completion of the 18-week program, apprentices graduate and begin their career as a valued KUKA team member. 

Q: What is the benefit of this work?

A: These positions are vital to the success of our business and our industry. An in-house training program assures that our new employees have learned the skills and processes necessary to meet the expectations of our customers. It also provides a supportive learning environment which allows the young talent to assimilate into our company culture and values faster.  These jobs are great entry-level positions into a high-wage, high-skill, high-demand area. There is also great opportunity for career growth and longevity.

Q: Have you hired any young people who have gone through your work experience programming?

A: Over 50% of apprentices continue today as regular full-time KUKA employees.

Q: Have you encountered any challenges in this effort? If so, how did you work around them?

A: We’ve had some challenges at the beginning. One example is the schedule. We originally had apprentices start at 8 a.m., rather than the standard 6 a.m. manufacturing starting time. We thought the earlier start would “scare off” some potential candidates. We found, however, that upon completion of the program some of our program graduates were not able to make that adjustment and couldn’t meet the work schedule expectations as a regular full-time employee. We adjusted and now start immediately with the 6 a.m. schedule. The change has resulted in greater retention of our apprentices and has had no negative impact on our applicant pool; in fact, since the schedule expectations are clearer at the start of the recruiting process, candidates have the correct mindset from Day 1 and integrate into the team immediately.  

Another challenge we had early in the program was bringing in too many apprentices at one time. Open and honest conversations with our plant managers and supervisors helped us understand that starting with a smaller group for each program period allowed our internal mentors and coaches more one-on-one time to train.  This created a more positive experience for all parties. 

Last challenge was recognizing who within our internal team were the best mentors and coaches. We had to identify a few new core competencies within our existing manufacturing workforce. Some of our most skilled employees quickly proved to also be effective trainers while continuing to focus on our customer expectations and project timing requirements.  

Q: Would you recommend this type of approach to other companies/organizations?

A: Definitely. It allows companies to develop new talent by providing opportunities for people who have an interest in the trades but didn’t know how or where to start. We recognized from the beginning that not everyone would stick with KUKA or the trades, but we have found and helped develop some great new talent to add to our workforce. It is also very rewarding for our internal team to share their passion for their work with the young people in our community.  Nothing better than working for a company you love, doing a job you enjoy….and sharing that excitement.

Pictured: One of the groups with their supervisors/coaches at the Sterling Heights facility. And apprentices at a facility that won a safety and environmental award.

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Department:Planning and Economic Development