Finding a talented workforce is top of mind for every organization. But sometimes there are barriers to getting the right people in the right positions. Especially for industries that require specialized employees, like manufacturing.
One of the main issues for employers in that field is a massive shortage of skilled workers. This is a problem across the country, but here in Michigan, where manufacturing makes up 87 percent of the state’s GDP, it’s become very serious. According to recent reports, there are 80,000 jobs that cannot be filled because of the scarcity of trained workers. The effects of this shortage can be very negative for profits, and if not addressed, it could lead to businesses shuttering their facilities and moving elsewhere.
That’s where Macomb County-based SMT Automation comes in. They offer specialized staffing solutions to meet the needs of manufacturers. These teams of contracted individuals will then provide on site design and engineering services, hardware selection, implementation of control systems, support for starting machinery and commissioning and advice in control systems – services that are certainly resonating with Michigan businesses.
Behind the business
The leaders behind this successful venture are husband and wife team Marco Santana and Elena Morales. They started SMT in 2017, several years after moving from Mexico for Elena’s job. Marco, a controls and automation engineer, heard over and over from Michigan manufacturers about their workforce shortages. Given his advanced degrees, experience and connections, he felt he could find a solution to the problem and after many discussions with Elena, they established their business.
Getting started was not always easy and it required round-the-clock commitment to the job. But the couple, who have been together for 15 years, persevered and manufacturers came calling. SMT now counts several industry leaders as clients. They love the services SMT provides, which are somewhat similar to those offered by a traditional staffing agency. But it’s also completely different. Marco and Elena run an international firm that identifies engineering and automation talent around the world. They then recruit, train and manage the process for getting these individuals to the United States. Once here in Michigan, SMT employs the foreign workers and contracts out their services. But rather than just place a temporary worker, SMT places an entire team on site at the client’s facility. This team is trained in localized processes and procedures to ensure expert handling of projects in a timely manner. At the end of a job, the SMT workers are transferred to whichever client is next on the list for services.
So how might this work in a real world situation? Say that you are a local manufacturer that is installing a new machine in one of your facilities. You have limited capacity to get that piece of equipment up and running, so you contract with SMT to bring in a knowledgeable and trained team to handle the job. This team then works on site for a determined period of time to get the assigned project done. They manage all troubleshooting, programming, design and engineering – allowing you to continue to focus on your day-to-day activities. When the job is complete, the SMT team moves on. However, if their support is needed long-term, they can stay on board.
Why do all this? Well, as previously stated, there is a trained worker shortage in Michigan and manufacturers cannot wait for the local talent pipeline to recover. So they have to turn to different labor pools and looking internationally has become an important option. This makes contracting with SMT appealing as it reduces the risk for companies that want to employ foreign workers but are wary or unsure of the process. And all told, clients of SMT are thrilled with the results of their partnerships. Some clients even want to poach SMT talent.
Recruiting a talented workforce
With SMT talent in demand, it is imperative that Marco and Elena continue their efforts to find educated and trained individuals for their workforce. Currently, they are looking to double their employee count, which will require a change in their international business model. The couple now plan to shift from hiring foreign talent to hiring right here in Metro Detroit. They want to find people with the right degrees and the right experience. But they also want employees with a positive attitude. And for Marco and Elena, this might be the most important skill of them all. They need people who will go in and get the job done. People who are up for a challenge. People who will deliver on promises made to clients. This is what sets SMT apart and makes them a vital resource for manufacturers.
On top of finding these skilled and good-natured workers, SMT also plans to grow its footprint in Macomb County. Current operations for the business are housed in Clinton Township, but Elena and Marco are looking to expand into a larger office in the near future. With this new space, the couple can work towards their ultimate goal – giving back to their community by giving young people more employment opportunities. They wholeheartedly believe in helping the next generation of manufacturing talent get that first foot in the door, because when that demographic finds meaningful work, they contribute to the well-being of our economy. This idea is certainly part of the solution to fixing the overall workforce shortage in manufacturing. Young people need to be given the chance at these skilled careers and they should be supported in their efforts in the industry.
SMT is not alone in this mission. Macomb County leaders are making big strides in this area as well by collaborating with partners to develop and support initiatives that expose the next generation to science and technology-related education and careers. This work includes:
- The Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development partners with the Macomb Intermediate School District, along with an active planning committee and generous sponsors, to coordinate one of the nation’s largest celebrations of Manufacturing Day (MFG Day). Since 2014, more than 7,000 students have visited a nearby plant to see industry in action and learn about career possibilities.
- Macomb Community College hosts AUTO Steam Days, a two-day hands-on opportunity for students to explore careers in automotive design, robotics, manufacturing and technology.
- The Michigan Automotive & Defense Cyber Awareness Team (MADCAT) partners with academia and area U.S. Department of Defense assets to develop a career pathway for high school and college students in cybersecurity.
These efforts, combined with businesses like SMT, can perhaps put us on a pathway to solving the talent crisis in manufacturing. And furthermore, a mindset like Marco and Elena’s that prioritizes giving young people their first career opportunity, will hopefully ensure a positive economic future for the entire state.
For more information on SMT, visit their website here.
**SMT Automation is a client of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development. Working with MCPED, they have access to services like assistance with marketing, financial analysis and planning, strategic planning, management and operations. To learn how our services can help your business grow, visit http://www.MacombBusiness.com or call 586-469-5285.
Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.