The way Charlie Ackerman sees it, government, industry, and educators must work together toward a common goal to build a supply line of talent. As senior vice president of human resources, North America, at Robert Bosch L.L.C., Ackerman has witnessed the power of supporting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiatives in preparing young people to succeed in the technical workforce.
For the majority of his 23 years with Bosch, Ackerman has been a staunch supporter of FIRST, the international team robotics club for students. When Detroit was deep in the Great Recession, Ackerman recognized the significant impact FIRST could have as the the region recovered economically.
“The FIRST concept is all about balancing the attention of our society around education and the development of people,” says Ackerman. He questions how society can replicate the energy dedicated to college and professional sports toward education, given the percentage of student athletes who succeed in pro sports versus those who aspire to STEM careers.
“Every associate that participates in FIRST gets a job. There is no loss,” he says.
Skills learned through FIRST, and other STEM education initiatives like SAE’s K-grade 8 AWIM, including collaboration, project management, leadership, business planning, fundraising, and account management are valuable to Bosch. That’s why they have 72 formal mentors representing Bosch in 21 FIRST teams in the U.S., impacting 1,000 students each year in communities where Bosch has a presence, including Charleston, Charlotte, Palo Alto, and cities in Illinois and Michigan.
“We literally put our leaders inside these teams and they build the talent and develop relationships,” says Ackerman. “We involve them in internship programs, we track them and put them into our targeted colleges through scholarships.”
As many as 1,000 students intern yearly with Bosch, with up to 350 placed between Farmington Hills and Plymouth. More than half eventually become Bosch employees. While Bosch focuses on strategic workforce development from the high school level, kids can participate in age-appropriate FIRST activities as early as age six.
And Ackerman says this strategy is working.
“If you look at computer software development in Detroit, and start thinking of skilled workers in this space, there is no unemployment. So if you can’t buy the talent, you have to build it.”