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Michigan Tech Offers New Tactic In ‘War For Talent’

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A view of Houghton, including the Michigan Technological University campus, from Hancock. Matt Roush photo.

A view of Houghton, including the Michigan Technological University campus, from Hancock. Matt Roush photo.

HOUGHTON — The term ‘War for Talent,’ coined in the tech boom of the 1990s, has resurfaced because a recovering knowledge-based economy has created an urgency for talent in technology fields.

One of the fiercest battlefields in this war, as it turns out, is 550 miles northwest of Detroit in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan — Michigan Technological University.

This year, more than 800 Michigan Tech will graduate with skills uniquely attractive to companies because they have already acquired significant hands-on lab and “real-world” project experience.

Nearly all Michigan Tech College of Engineering students land employment within six months of graduation, with average starting salaries of $56,000. Some graduates have received as many as 14 job offers. Talented students are discovered while working on real corporate projects and during the University’s two Career Fairs, where nearly 300 of the country’s top employers come to visit them.

“Companies are looking for people with a technical background and strong people skills — that is the ultimate employee,” said Jim Turnquist, director of career services at Michigan Tech. “This demand is especially typical during a recession and post-recession; the first professionals hired back are engineers and IT professionals. Here at Michigan Tech, we cannot keep up with the number of companies calling, e-mailing and begging for student talent. Ultimately, their salaries prove their value.”

While companies traditionally hire college graduates to full-time positions, MTEC SmartZone and Michigan Tech have partnered on another idea called the “Fortune 500 Formula.” The partnership was designed for companies to access student talent while using professional high-tech business space to get high-value, high-quality engineering work done.

GE Aviation was the first company to use this concept, establishing what it calls a University Development Center in Houghton, in a three-story 16,000-square-foot former power generation station close to Michigan Tech’s campus that’s been used as business incubator space over the past decade.

MTEC SmartZone CEO Marilyn Clark said GE has 53 people at the development center — 18 permanent engineers and the rest students, working either as interns or part-timers.

GE found the model so successful that it has built university development centers across the nation.

Rather than outsourcing entry level jobs, GE has discovered a new business model to produce real work.

“We get to pick the best of the best (Tech students), and when they graduate, we can place them within our company throughout the country,” said Jason Mack, Site Manager for GE Aviation.

Ford Motor Co. followed suit, establishing a remote office in a former utility office building at 600 Lakeshore Drive in Houghton that’s now a Michigan Tech incubator. Ford has 32 part-timers at work in the building, who work about 20 hours a week scheduled around their class schedules, on a variety of engineering projects.

Clark said the Fortune 500 Formula lets companies obtain great work and discover new talent, while students gain excellent career experience, and the local economy is strengthened because students earn and spend money in Houghton.

For more information about MTEC SmartZone, please visit www.mtecsz.com and call (906) 487-7000.

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