Educating the Automotive Industry Workforce of the Future with Elaina Farnsworth

By Ed Bernardon

Reskilling & upskilling for the world of new mobility, intelligent transportation and self-driving cars.

The Next Education focuses on bringing the people and workers of today into the transportation world of tomorrow

As we enter the future of transportation, we’re becoming part of a world where convenience rules the day. We no longer need keys to start engines, we can voice command our way through making phone calls, selecting music to drive to, take out orders for dinner, and directions from A to B.

On the other side of all of this convenience are the people who keep it running. Maintaining technological complex systems is where the crossover between engineers and technicians takes place. The problem is that combining those skill sets is uncharted territory, particularly when it comes to education. This new technology frontier calls for a revamped system of training in order to prepare the next generation of hybrid “automotive technicians” slash “software gurus” for the workforce.

In this episode of the Women Driving the Future series, Ed Bernardon welcomes Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of The NEXT Education. As a speaker, writer, and industry influencer, she’s been instrumental in shaping the conversation around workforce education. Her organization provides certification for the workforce of the future, encompassing all skilled tradespeople within Autonomous, Industrial Mobility, Cyber Security and Smart City technologies.

This week, we’re discussing the importance of adapting the existing education system when it comes to the complex needs of the automotive industry. You’ll learn how automation is shaping the autonomous future, and how the need for upskilling and reskilling tradespeople helped bring The NEXT Education programs to life. We’ll also talk about the growing opportunities within the automotive industry, and we’ll define exactly where we’re at and where we’re headed on our autonomous journey.

Some Questions I Ask:

  • How did the idea for The NEXT Education come about? (4:58)
  • What kind of rules do you have to break to become a “Rule Breaker” award winner? (12:45)
  • What kind of information is a connected car with a human driver in it getting from a traffic light or from infrastructure that would make my trip better? (21:19)
  • What could someone like a tele-operator make per year once they have the certificate? (44:54)
  • Can you tell us about the Top 100 Women in Cyber and Mobility program? (50:55) 

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • Why it’s important for women to have awareness of the opportunities within tech (3:55)
  • The difference between certification and credentialing programs and four-year degrees (10:08)
  • Breaking down the meanings behind the autonomous acronyms (16:18)
  • The role of The NEXT Education in the autonomous revolution (26:08)
  • Where experience meets education (34:22)
  • The disappearing stigma of trade school education (46:17)

Connect With Elaina Farnsworth:


Connect with Ed Bernardon:

Ed Bernardon: Engineers are working hard to develop autonomous and connected vehicles and soon we’re going to be seeing more and more of them on our streets and highways.But these vehicles will require support from infrastructure in our urban environments in order to operate as efficiently and safely as possible.  

You can go to any city, large or small around the world, and they typically will have a Department of Transportation that has to keep the infrastructure up and going. They fix the holes and cracks in roads, the stoplights, and everything else. But with the dawn of our new transportation age its new technology, our urban infrastructure will evolve and change and the workers that support our infrastructure today will also have to evolve, to reskill, to upskill. We have to prepare this workforce for the transportation revolution that is unfolding, as it will take more than just engineers to make it happen.  

So who is going to educate the next generation of technicians where a mix of traditional automotive tech skills will need to meld with software/computer skills. Colleges are expensive and slow to respond. But vocational training that is up to date on curricula is just what the transportation industry needs to quickly get us a key part of what we need to be ready for tomorrow.  

——–intro music——-

Welcome to the Future Car podcast, I’m your host Ed Bernardon VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industry Software and joining us for this week’s Future Car podcast episode in our Women Driving the Future series is Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of The NEXT Education. The NEXT Education is at the forefront of learning solutions that focus on mobility, autonomous and connected vehicles, smart city infrastructure and intelligent transportation. She’s going to help us understand not only what is needed but what has to be done to prepare the workforce that will support our transportation future.  

Eliana, welcome to the Future Car Podcast.

Elaina Farnsworth: Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here.

Ed Bernardon: Let’s start off at the high level, you could tell us a little bit about what NEXT Education is, and why does the transportation industry needs it.

Elaina Farnsworth: NEXT Education is a very special company and we focus on training people either to be reskilled or upskilled in this new technology that’s called new mobility, intelligent transportation, and self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles. We recognize that there’s a need for not only engineers but also technicians and maintenance and salespeople and leaders and business people. our focus is strictly on bringing the people and the workers from today into the future of transportation for tomorrow.

Ed Bernardon: Yeah, we always tend to initially focus on the technology and we forget about the people side. So, it sounds like that’s what your focus is to get people ready as the technology gets ready. I want to take a step back, and try to understand a little bit how the next education came about. And let’s start off, you told me that when you were in grad school in computer science you were one of the few women in your class, what was that like? That was back in the ’90s.

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, yes. I love it. My daughter says “Back in the big 90’s Mom”, I said, “Yes back to the ’90s.”

Ed Bernardon: The last century.

Elaina Farnsworth: I know, it seems like I created the Model T with Ford when she says it, but what happened is I was in grad school and I decided that I wanted to be into computer science. And it was a small school. There were 34 others in my graduating class and I was the only female. Now one of the things I really like though is you do hear some stories about you being a woman in innovation and having a lot of challenges but I must say it was more like the entire class really bonded and I was part of a big family. Because back then all of us were new in technology. But it also made me realize when I looked around the class that there was a lot of work to do, we needed to let other women know that there was tremendous opportunity in this space. And I don’t think it was the lack of want or desire to be in the new field. I think it was a lack of being informed that those careers existed and specifically existed for women.

Ed Bernardon: So, with that background and the dawn of the new century, what were the steps towards how next the next education came about?

Elaina Farnsworth: The NEXT Education one of the things that I learned early on in my career is I did have a really good handle on being able to take technology solutions, business solutions because I also was studying MBA classes at the same time. But being able to really translate I call myself a translator. So, how can we take requirements that are very complex and simplify them so that people can use technology? One of the things and which is the reason that NEXT Education was formed was we realized that you can have the best technology in the world but if you don’t have the people that know how to use them or to properly install them, they’re not going to be effective. One of my grad school projects was going into a hospital and seeing millions of dollars worth of computer equipment that had been put in a basement of a large hospital and it wasn’t being utilized. Not because the systems didn’t work but because people didn’t know how to utilize the systems at all. And that really piqued my passion for learning after grad school, I was fortunate enough to work in a company where we worked with a lot of governmental agencies and we would see government employees which were doing emergency response and hazardous material spills and being able to communicate with the community on how to be safer through technology. And what we realized is that if the people knew how to use the technology it was a fabulous tool. For those who didn’t want to use it or know how to use it, there was a tremendous amount of resistance to use it. And so, the computer systems are only as good as the people that know how to use them and want to use them. So, let’s fast forward a little bit because that really took us into the world of the connected vehicle. In 2010, I and a group of partners launched NEXT Education on the premise that we need to train the people. And back then even in 2010, all of the talks of autonomy and connected vehicles sounded like the Jetsons like it was never going to happen. But we knew because we are headquartered right outside of Detroit, that they were already being put in place that the foundations to be able to have this safer way to travel. So, our passion really became how do we take these new technologies, the consistency in them, how do we align them with competency-based programs? When we look at the critical infrastructure and how our lives will be changed by the safety, We want people to know what they’re doing. We want people to have the confidence to do them well. And so, we want to encourage programs that can be certified and credentials, that people can start utilizing and building upon that knowledge to make sure that the systems are developed and installed in a way where they’re safer.  

Ed Bernardon: The military was somehow involved in this though. The military does get involved in helping us develop commercial technologies but it did play a pretty key role in what you were doing as you developed your company.

Elena Farnsworth: Yes. So, early on, we’ve supported training for the military. There’s a research center here in Warren, Michigan for the tank and army command. We develop specialized training for them. One of the things you have to realize about the military is they are very sophisticated. And so, when they start to see the technologies evolve, they’re quickly able to move and say, “We see that there’s going to be portions of our vehicles that will soon be connected.”

Ed Bernardon: Do you think they move faster than the commercial sector?

Elaina Farnsworth: Well, I’m going to say on certain things, yes and on others, no. there are different sets of skill sets that it needs when you’re talking about using robotics and autonomy and connectivity, when you’re securing a nation, then there are moving from one place to another on a general highway. One of the things especially that the army has been completely influential and doing really great things is the leader-follower. There are a lot of technologies around leader-follower where one vehicle in front will have other vehicles behind it. And only one or two of them have drivers in them. And that is a great way of fleet management, which we’re starting to see in the commercial world as well because again, it’s an efficient and effective way to move goods. So, the army has goods and the military has goods, and they’re really, really well evolved in that area.

Ed Bernardon: So, you’ve recognized this need for as technology evolves, education has to evolve with it step by step, they have to go together. And it seems like the fact that you are working with the military, with the army that they more naturally see that themselves, and that really helped you get your company up and going.

Elaina Farnsworth: I think one thing that was helpful to us early on is we realized that developing – and I’ve said this several times – but competency-based programs were critical. One of the things I wanted to mention today is the difference in certification and credentialing programs and then four-year degree programs. So, what I want you to think about is technology evolves faster than we can. And it is essential in some cases, for people to have four-year degrees that are specific in let’s say, computer science or mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering. However, because this space has really evolved and moves like a freight train, there are a lot of technologies that come out of the pipe immediately. And so, universities, it takes a while for a degree program to be supported by specific higher education. Credentials are a much more flexible way to show that you can have that learning that’s based on competencies and it’s recognized by large organizations that are really top of the line in the industry, to CompTIA for instance. CompTIA is a very well-known nonprofit organization that certifies people in computers. We wrote with them in 2012 their CompTIA training for the first mobility plus launch for certification, which included integrating device and vehicle technologies. I mentioned that because it’s also critical to note that being involved with organizations like SAE International, had to create competency-based certifications around connected vehicle and autonomy and we wrote that with them. There was a need not only for training but for that certification and credential to show that an external organization like comp CompTIA or SAE International or most recently, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, value those learning objectives and that skill set that the people that are taking these courses are showing that they can achieve through a certificate.

Ed Bernardon: And this whole thing of a certificate versus a degree I think is something we’re definitely going to dive into. Before we do that though, I’ve noticed that you’ve had a few awards in your career, top 10 Influencers of North American Automotive Suppliers, the Elite 40 Under 40, Tech week 100. But there’s one award that I found very interesting, which is the in 2017 you got the Rulebreaker Award winner. I just want to know what kind of rules do you have to break to become a Rulebreaker Award winner?

Elaina Farnsworth: Ed, I have to tell you that was one of the hardest ones for me to get. It was. You take the young woman in education and you say “Hey, I’m a rule breaker.” The first year I was passed over, the second year I believe…

Ed Bernardon: So, you tried harder the second year to break the rule?

Elaina Farnsworth: Yes, I did… Wait for a second, that’s not considered rule breaking. And I’ll tell you I was really proud of that award and here’s why. Because in order to make a difference and to create change, just like Henry Ford, you have to be a rule breaker. Henry Ford came in when he first created the car, and I’m sure you’ve heard this story over and over. But when he rolled it out, people said, “Oh, no, I’m not going to ride in that tin box and, that aluminum box, my head will explode, I’ll get a nosebleed.” There’re so many things that they didn’t see would be valuable and we’re afraid of. So, I feel like one of the reasons I was able to achieve the Rulebreaker Award is we are doing things differently. We understand that education has a really important part in the future and that without the proper education, we’re not going to be able to achieve what we need to. We have to be flexible, we have to go in and we have to upset some people. And we have to be able to say, “Listen, we can’t do it this way anymore. We can’t have only a traditional way of doing things.”. we started doing this back in 2010, we would look at some of the requirements for the jobs and they would have 15 things listed and I would have someone that would call us and say, “We want to apply for this job but we don’t have eight of the 15.” And I said, “Apply anyway, nobody has that.” No one has that because it’s such a new field. And so, we came in and said we need people to do education differently, we need people not to think on a technology realm. You don’t have to only be a technologist or an engineer to be part of this transportation arena, this new safety, this new intelligent transportation, you don’t have to be that. And I believe that’s what really piqued the interest of the Rulebreaker Award is we don’t have to do things the same anymore to be successful in this field.

Ed Bernardon: Well, your background is in computer science, you don’t have an education degree. That’s what set you up for being a rulebreaker. Well, this is what’s needed to educate. Nobody told me I had to do this in a university. This needs to be done, even though nobody wants it.

Elaina Farnsworth: Yes, and you’re only as successful as the people that you surround yourself with. And I say many times, I hire the smartest people, I am not the smartest person. I understand the technology and I understand what needs to be done to help the people be part of that. But I hire educators and curriculum writers and teachers and subject matter experts to make sure that we get the very best education that’s possible.

Ed Bernardon: Let’s jump into the transportation. We throw around these words autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, they can be different. They are different things they can work together. One connected vehicle may be here, they’re here now, probably going to be more widely used before autonomous. Explain to our listeners, what’s the difference between the two, when are we going to see them? Because that’s really our future evolving.

Elaina Farnsworth: I’m going to break it down as simplistically as I can and of course, there’s obviously a lot of a deeper explanation. But the way I like to tell people is let’s just look at the words themselves. You see many times you’ll see an acronym that says CAV, so it’s connected. Some days, you’ll hear it called automated, others you’ll hear it called autonomous and then there’s obviously intelligent transportation. So, when we talk about intelligent transportation, that’s really exactly what it is. It’s transportation assets that can make decisions or help other people make better decisions. So, it’s the infrastructure which we call I to Vehicle. So, you may have a vehicle talking to infrastructure, and that’s called V to I. And that is where a vehicle is connected because it’s connected to the infrastructure.

Ed Bernardon: And that vehicle can have a driver, it doesn’t have to be autonomous.

Elaina Farnsworth: It can have a driver and most often does have a driver. Unless it’s autonomous, it has to.

Ed Bernardon: So, those vehicles are out there today, these connected vehicles.

Elaina Farnsworth: Well, and that’s something I love to talk about. Yes, there are sensors and there were regulations made many years ago in the auto industry that said you had to have a certain level of sensors now. And so, vehicles that can send information back and forth, that are connected to the internet or to each other, so you can have V2V technology. Those connected vehicles are out there right now today. They send information, they receive information, and the traffic lights, again, those are already connected. So, we’ve got connected vehicles talking to each other. So, you’ve got V2V, you’ve got vehicles talking to infrastructure, and then you have automated vehicles. So, the difference between an automated and an autonomous vehicle is the level of technology. So, an automated vehicle, for instance, has different levels of technology and you’ve got automation as I like to ADAS systems, which today it’s advanced driver safety systems. So, if you have one of those cars like I do, where if I get too close to another vehicle, it starts screaming at me, “You’re going to hit something!” that is a segway because the vehicle has sensors in it that allow you to be able to sense things that are around you. And those are examples of automation.

Ed Bernardon: So, really a connected vehicle can have a driver in it or not if it’s autonomous or automated. And there’s a lot of talking going on. What are they talking about?

Elaina Farnsworth: So, one of the things about autonomy is there are different levels that SAE put out for what autonomy is. And I like to say think of it in this way, level 01 is no automation at all. So, it has to have a driver, hands on the wheel, absolutely no technology.

Ed Bernardon: Let’s take one of those. That at the lower level when you still have a driver in it and it’s in this connected infrastructure and it’s talking back and forth. What kind of information is being exchanged? What are they talking about?

Elaina Farnsworth: It can be anything from the surroundings. So, you have sensors on each side of the car and I mentioned earlier, the car is beeping at you. You may have a sensor that detects the middle lane, so it doesn’t allow you to go over into the middle lane, you may have something that detects other cars in front of you. You may have cars that had a backup camera, so it detects things that are behind you. All of those signals are detecting things that are in the environment and usually external to the car. And those are level one and two, and then as you go up in the level three, four, and five, the technologies themselves allow the driver not to have as much interaction. Believe it or not, I love saying this, when you get into level three that’s where it becomes incredibly difficult. Because level three is I have all this technology, but I have human and we’re the ones that make the most mistakes. So, when you have a human in the mix, if you’ve got technology that’s doing its job very much like that beeping sensor that I mentioned before if the car can stop me before I get to the other vehicle in front of me because it’s a level three, higher-level two, level three, it could stop me. But if the human suddenly gets scared and I press the gas instead of the brake because I had a reaction, now I’ve intervened in the function of the car to do its job. So, that’s where the level three and four become mixed. Now, I also like to say, level fours right now are a general airplane. So, you know how you’ll see the pilot doing autopilot, those are really the level four interactions that for people to kind of get in their head what it’s like. But think about it, you don’t have trees and buildings and other cars when you’re on autopilot in the air. So, there’s a level of complexity to three and four that we’re still evaluating in the industry.

Ed Bernardon: So, if it’s autonomous at level four, or five, three, or especially when there’s a human driver, you mentioned earlier, the traffic light could talk to that car and provide information. What kind of information is a connected car with a human driver in it getting from the traffic light or from infrastructure that would make my trip better?

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, you can get all kinds of things. So, one is to think about rewrite routing capability. So, if you’re in an area, for instance, that has a lot of sports traffic for whatever reason, you’re going to a football game, you are in a hurry and I know you can do this in Waze now. But if your vehicle is receiving traffic flow information and weather information from the infrastructure and other sources, it can make your life easier. You can get to places faster, you know what’s occurring. I always like to use the example several years ago, unfortunately, we had an accident that was in our state where we had, I believe it was 40 cars or 40 vehicles that were in an accident because of black ice. Vehicles can be alerted that something has happened upfront. So, even if you’re 5, 6, 7 miles back, you could be alerted that there is an accident because of black ice and you need to have an alternative route. That’s a source that can allow you to save time, money and be safer.

Ed Bernardon: How’s that better than Wase or Google Maps? They do that today, don’t they?

Elaina Farnsworth: They do, but then this ties into the automobile itself, the vehicle itself. So, as we move into autonomy, think about it. So, I do events for schoolchildren as well many times to try to promote them to get into these really cool careers. And one of the things I like to say is, let’s imagine because as we’re moving toward more of the levels of autonomy, let’s imagine that I want to go to Florida. I don’t want to fly, I want to go in an automobile, but I don’t want to drive because I’d rather sit back in my lazy chair and watch a movie while the car drives Oh, and I can go to sleep by the way in the future and a level five because a level five won’t even have a steering wheel. So, if you think about the information that’s going to be necessary for the vehicle to receive at that time, that vehicle is going to have to sense its surroundings, it’s going to have to sense the weather, it’s going to have to be given information when the other vehicles are around it, so it can make the safest travel decisions and maybe even coordinate with other autonomous vehicles depending on the lane it’s in. So, as we start to get all of this information if it’s just the phone and the phone is tethered to the car, that is an external device that can talk to the vehicle. But if you’re looking at Waze right now, you’re still operating the vehicle by looking at an external app. So, all of this plays a role in what the future looks like for safer traveling.

Ed Bernardon: It will put it in your face. Like it or not, you’re going to get the information. Pay attention, you’d have something you should be listening to.

Elaina Farnsworth: That’s right.

Ed Bernardon: So, now you’ve got this technology in the car, you got this technology in the infrastructure. How many cars that are out there today are connected? And if I buy a car today, if I go to the showroom, pick up a car, is it a 90% chance that it’s a connected vehicle, or is it still something that’s creeping in slowly but surely?

Elaina Farnsworth: Well, it depends on if they’re not all connected. Now they do have the ability to be connected to many of them especially the new newer versions. I would be remiss if I said I had that exact number, I don’t. But what I do know is that we are beginning to see now and you’ll see a lot of as 5G begins to emerge. I know a lot of people hear that term and we see it all the time on the television. It is a little bit misleading because 5G is not ubiquitous here, we do not have full coverage of 5G. You can’t jump in a car and all of a sudden your car’s connected to 5G. And the reason I’m mentioning that is because, in order for the car to really be able to utilize the technology of connectivity, we’re going to have to make sure that we have that connectivity available. So, imagine that we have 15 million cars in one region and they’re all trying to connect to the internet. Now, that’s going to cause some problems until we have the connectivity to facilitate that, which is why infrastructure is what our current US administration is really involved in promoting because it’s going to take the growth of infrastructure for us to create a disconnected environment that is safer.

Ed Bernardon: So, in this infrastructure, we have traffic lights talking to cars, and cars talking to people with smartphones, a lot of things talking to a lot of different other things. And it seems that, as you know that this the infrastructure to support, this is evolving to facilitate all this communication. So, somebody has to design it and build it, somebody has to maintain it. And I think that’s where NEXT Education comes in. So, what is the role that NEXT Education plays in making sure that this revolution here in communication between infrastructure and vehicles comes about?

Elaina Farnsworth: So, our role is, we always like to say that we put the people in the technology because it’s our belief that if you empower the people and grow the people, that you’ll also be able to grow the industry. That’s what we specialize in; we reskill and upskill people to be able to play a role in this new environment. So, we take these new technologies and we have subject matter experts all over the world, all of them work in the industry, and that is what differentiates us. We have an online as well as an in-person version so that we can scale this. So, that anybody can access this online and then they can also have that interaction with instructors, which we know is really critical. Why is that important? Because people want to ask questions. And because you may be in an environment, or in a career that’s adjacent. So, a mechanical engineer, mechanical engineer, would be great engineer to get into ADAS systems, but they may not have the technical background. So, we do an assessment and say, “Okay, how can we get you and rescale you from this area to that area?” We also identify that we need people that, as I said earlier, the technicians, the installers, and those people that may want to be the folks that go into the traffic light systems in the transport and they want to learn how to maintain and install these very digitally driven systems. So, we’re not in an analog world anymore, where the traffic light just turns red. We’re in a digital system where data is going to be transmitted. And the role we play in making sure we find out where our students and our companies are and then we move them through to identify what skills are necessary to get them into the Intelligent Transportation field.

Ed Bernardon: You have your smartphone, and you look at it and it’s magically working and exchanging data and doing all these things. It’s all about data and apps and viewing it, but suddenly now you have all that in this transportation world, but you also have real physical things, you have a vehicle that you’re sitting in. It’s not just about data moving, but also all these other physical assets that need to be maintained. And you mentioned the word upskilling and reskilling. Maybe you could explain what the difference is between those two and how it really combines the old world of technicians with this modern world of technology. Because what you’re describing is bringing those two together.

Elaina Farnsworth: So, when you upskill, a particular person or a company, so one of our specialties is we can go into a company that says we have 45 software engineers that really want to learn more about the connectivity piece, or how’s 5G going to affect this as we start communicating. Or most recently, one of our really big initiatives is around the cybersecurity around this. So, how do we take people from their foundational level of understanding and their particular job and upskill them to know that next level of understanding for cybersecurity, connectivity, any of the pieces that are either in-vehicle or external? Reskilling is what we do as we continue to skill the employees or the companies when things change. One of the challenges is around this industry standards change, global standards are different, the US standards, then European standards and as we began to evolve, and the technology changes and the standards change, we have to continue to reskill. So, when we have something that happens in cybersecurity, I’m just using that because it changes literally every minute, then we’re able to send out information to our students that have taken specific courses and say, “Hey, you should probably reskill in this area because there’s been something new in cyber.” And then to continue to evolve that as the technology and as the industry continues to grow. Because there are jobs we have today that didn’t exist two years ago, and there’ll be jobs in five years that we don’t have today. So, we have to continue that learning in order to be able to have the people have the skill to do that.

Ed Bernardon: You can’t just get a degree and say, “Oh, I’m a mechanical engineer now, I don’t have to learn anything else.” I guess that that works okay if you’re trying to get a job that was available 5-10 years ago, but it seems that you have to find a way to quickly learn the new things that are required to implement or utilize all this technology that’s evolving.

Elaina Farnsworth: Yes. And I didn’t answer the second part of your question, I’m sorry, Ed. When we talk about the difference in the technicians, one of the things I do want to mention, in addition to what we just said, is that the technicians many times if they’ve been in transportation specifically, and I’ll start with that. Because if you think about the evolution of the roads, many years ago, you didn’t put fiber in roads, every time that you developed and when we have states or communities that come to us and say, “Hey, I’m a department of transportation in this state, what should we do first with this money?” Do the very first things first, you have to have things connected in order to be able to evolve. So, look at having the connectivity and the fiber put in the roads, whenever you’re doing any road project. Well think about that, if you’ve never dealt with fiber or you’ve never dealt with technology, you’ve never really worked in a laptop environment, that’s a very analog kind of job. And so, we have now moved everything into the digital air. We do everything from our phones now, we do everything with YouTube, many things are data-driven. So, if you’re a technician, you don’t have to go and learn how to redo what you already do, but let’s take what that experience has brought you in the past, and let’s change that mentality from that analog capacity into the digital environment. So, then you can go and be of the transformative nature for the transportation industry in that technician field.

Ed Bernardon: If you’re a technician, and you’ve been working in the, let’s call the analog world that you mentioned, you now learn, you upskill, reskill and learn these new things. You probably look at it in a different way than someone that has no experience and just learns it for the first time. It’s one plus one equals three in that case. You get a little bit more because you can draw on that experience. That’s a key part of this.

Elaina Farnsworth: I like to say and I use this term and – I didn’t come up with it, but I did read it in an article, I have to give them credit for it – but we are in a world where we have digital immigrants like myself, where we have immigrated from not having technology when we grow up. I mean, I don’t know about you, Ed, but I remember when cell phones were just able to go into the car and a bag phone. And there was not a ubiquitous environment where everybody had a cellular phone, so we really moved into this environment. A lot of seasoned folks in the industry have also like us been digital immigrants, whereas the new generation that is coming up, grew up not understanding what it was like to be without technology. So, they’re digital natives. So, when we talk about those folks, the level of understanding of what needs to be done in technology is similar, but the way they learn is different. So, we do take those into consideration when we’re talking about and we’re delivering our training. How do you take someone that’s brand new in the industry, and skill them into new jobs and take someone that’s already been in the industry and upskill them into the same new jobs where they can work together and talk the same language?

Ed Bernardon: So, in the upskilling case, if someone’s been in the industry for 20 years fixing traffic light controllers, does that help when they learn this new technology versus someone that’s never even touched a traffic control light, and now all of a sudden they’re designing infrastructure or trying to learn about it? Is there an advantage to having that and even having those people working with the more newly educated non-immigrants, as you call?

Elaina Farnsworth: Named the digital natives. Yes, it’s extremely helpful. You can’t buy experience, you can’t teach experience. You can teach the technologies and to give the experience collectively is so valuable. One of the unique pieces about this industry that I adore and one of the reasons that our product line is called micro tracks. And what we did is we broke different pieces of education into smaller units so that we can combine them together for one track. One of the reasons we did that is because sensors that play a role in auto, in the automotive, in the vehicle also play a role in the infrastructure. Some of those that the way that things see and hear are the same. The electrical components, when we talk about electric vehicles and installing electric vehicles, what does that look like? Electric vehicle, external of the car, electricity, internal to the car. They’re very similar. We find that if you have an electrical engineer working this alongside a mechanical engineer or someone who has been in the transportation industry for 25 years, working with the college graduate that just got out with computer science, they see things in a different way. And once they learn to communicate with one another effectively, the transitions to having a successful implementation is a much shorter timeframe because they’re all on the same page.  

Ed Bernardon: This whole idea of the native and the immigrant as applied to this example you’re giving here, so you have people that have been in the industry for a long time, you have newly educated people, you have electrical engineers, you have mechanical engineers, you have this mix of experience and technology. And you mentioned earlier, this idea of language. They all speak a different technology language that must play a key role in finding a common language for the natives and the immigrants who speak.

Elaina Farnsworth: When we talk to our leadership, and we say, “Hey, what skills do you need with the people that you’re hiring today?” One skill that every one of them has is we need them to be able to communicate because again when we see phones all the time that art of communication is getting a little muffled. I mean, I’m sure you’ll agree on that, which is on another podcast, Ed. However, what is important is that many times professionals that are working on similar systems may have different terminology. But when they share the terminology and they begin to see that they can discuss them, then suddenly they say, “Oh, I see. The way we transmit data is very similar, but we transmitted it in this way.” ITE, the Institute of Transportation Engineers Certification for Technicians, is the first global certification that they’ve done for a technician level as we started developing the content, one thing that became apparent and exciting was the engineers said, “Oh, my gosh, if we can be talking the exact same language as the technicians and the people that are installing, we are already ahead of the game. Because now we don’t have to spend that time where we can be working together, explaining what each other means.” And that’s a really important role that education plays.

Ed Bernardon: Can you give us a specific example of where you saw this lack of being able to communicate was causing a problem?

Elaina Farnsworth: Many years ago, early on, and I call it the evolution of self-driving vehicles, I was asked to come in and consult with a firm, an automotive firm, there were 40ish engineers from all over the world on this phone call. And the leadership said to me, “We’re having this problem, we can’t, we’ve been working with this issue for – and it was a global problem – we’ve been working for this with this issue for months now, and we can’t get on the same page. And we just like somebody to come in and say, tell me what could possibly be a solution here.”, I hear out of these 40 people, there were three individuals that were very vocal about an issue. And as I’m listening to them, all three of them wanted the same thing. So, we had someone that was in communication working with someone that was in software and data resiliency, cyber, the internal vehicle communications and what they were saying were aligned, but they were saying it in such a different way, it was causing everybody else that became part of the conversation to have inputs relative to the leader that they were behind more. So, I said to the leadership, I said, just get these three people in a room, let’s talk it out what they’re saying because they’re saying almost the exact same thing. They all want this protection and if they work together on this, then they can solve it very easily. The next week, they did that. They implemented it, they got on the same page and there was one little nuance in the word that was a complete misunderstanding the next calls went smoothly because then they brought their team and everybody was talking the same language.

Ed Bernardon: You need to create a Google Translate for these different people to be able to talk to each other.

Elaina Farnsworth: Well, that’s going to be my next venture, Ed.

Ed Bernardon: Now, so getting an education, you get out of high school, I’m going to go get a college degree. It seems like the natural step most people do. But here, you’re talking about certification. It’s, in lieu of college, in addition to, complementary, how does that work?

Elaina Farnsworth: So I’m asked this question a lot. And what we recommend several things. there’s a beauty about four-year degrees and there are certain jobs that you have to have them, especially in the military – which we work with a lot – in order to hold a certain level, you have to have a certain degree within that level. So, there is a place for universities. We are working with a lot of universities now to do things that are called stackable credentials. So, we’re finding that especially in higher education with graduate degrees, some of the universities that we work with nationally are saying, “You know what? Let’s go for those people who may already have a four-year degree and let’s give them a micro-credential or a micro degree on top of what they’ve already done. So let’s get a master’s degree, for instance, in mobility with a credential on top of that, for cyber.”

Ed Bernardon: It’s like getting some practical experience quickly.

Elaina Farnsworth: Exactly. So, let’s get a four-year degree, let’s go to school for six months, let’s go work, let’s do a certificate while you’re working, let’s come back and finish the master’s degree. Let’s get another certificate and then when you go out, you have a stackable credential. There are some jobs you don’t need to go to college at all for.

Ed Bernardon: Yeah, why go to college, why not just straight to this? I wouldn’t have all those loans to pay off.

Elaina Farnsworth: And I can’t tell you how many people when I go in and how many industries that are saying “I can’t find, especially in the EV space…” – which is the electric vehicle space is absolutely growing like wildfire – and they’re saying, “We can’t find enough electricians that can just be electrician, fewer EV installers.” Because as an electric vehicle installer for infrastructure, and guess what, we can’t have electric cars if we don’t have a charging station to charge them. So, how do we get people to understand that you can make really good money 70-90-100,000 dollars a year by going to school and getting an electrical engineer, I mean, electrical certificate and then layering on top of that credentials around the electric vehicle? It’s something people just don’t think about that they really should.

Ed Bernardon: I saw an article about plumbers and the amount of money they earn over their lifetime in comparison to a doctor. Now obviously, a plumber doesn’t have to go to school for whatever it is 8, 12 years and residency. But like you said, they can make a very, very good living and it turns out that if you look at all the loans that have to be paid off and the amount of time that a doctor spends not earning that a plumber and a doctor until they’re about 40 years old, the doctor doesn’t surpass the plumber in the amount of savings and net worth. Are you convinced that someone could skip, shall we say getting a college degree and maybe get one of your certificates or just generally get a vocational certificate like this and be able to make a contribution that’s worthwhile and make a good living?

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Without a doubt, I stand by that 100%. And here’s why. And now this is my opinion, you may not read this, but I am very opinionated.

Ed Bernardon: Are you sure?

Elaina Farnsworth: We’re evolved in an education system that has grown and has been around for hundreds of years. But now all of a sudden, we’ve been projected into this world of technology where things are readily available, and we have information and we have never been in the place that we’ve been here. And I dare to say that in transportation, we’re looking at a similar situation as we were when Ford created the original car. Because the car wasn’t the only thing that came out of that. We saw roads, we saw better commerce, we saw our new jobs, we saw the assembly line created. The reason I mention that is because of these new jobs that are coming to bear, we can’t train for them in a four-year degree because they don’t exist yet. We’re part of a group called the Teleoperations Forum and teleoperations is a brand new field where basically cars that aren’t level five or autonomous cars that can’t drive themselves, they have to have a person in the middle like you and I. So, that when there’s a decision point, let’s say it’s freight moving something through an urban environment…

Ed Bernardon: It’s like a remote-controlled vehicle.

Elaina Farnsworth: You have people that are sitting in a control center that can do a remote control job, that job didn’t exist five years ago and they’re not training for that in college. So, if you want that technical skill but you don’t want to go to a four-year degree and there’s such a shortage, there are such a shortage of people that can be technicians, electricians. In these technology-related fields, you can absolutely do that with a certificate and you don’t have to go to the four-year degree.

Ed Bernardon: As an example, a teleoperator that’s been trained and has gotten one of these certificates. What could someone like that make once they have this certificate?

Elaina Farnsworth: It varies. It usually starts out and I’m just going to use welding. You can start out 50-70,000 dollars a year depending on what you’re doing and how advanced you get. But then as we grow, and as we need more of these people, you can start making $100,000 a year. That’s a lot for someone that has not gone to college. I always say is that there’s a lot more than just the bottom line paycheck, it’s also about what you enjoy doing, it’s also about are passionate when you go to work every day. If you don’t like sitting behind a computer, don’t be a computer programmer. If you want to go outside and create sensors that look at spots in the road to make sure we don’t have an accident, you can still get a computer technology certificate, work outside with the sensors. But make sure you do what you want to do because then that’ll propel you to learn more and to get more and to continue to grow in your industry.


Ed Bernardon: This idea of being able to get a skill in a shorter amount of time than you would at a university allows you to explore more, it allows you to a better opportunity to find a good match for what your passion and your skills are best accustomed to doing. It seems to me that that’s a big advantage over going to university and studying for four years and then maybe finding out after all that that it wasn’t really what you wanted to do.  


Elaina Farnsworth:

Again, I don’t want to take anything away from our universities because there are places that are very necessary to have a four-year degree, six-year, eight-year degree. But I also don’t want to take away the value of having the people work in a very skilled trip, skilled trade.

Ed Bernardon: Where you need both.

Elaina Farnsworth: You need both, you can’t do one without the other. As I mentioned, when we’re talking about the technicians, the technicians that are doing the installation. And now let’s talk about also, as all of the vehicles are connected, you’ve got to have someone that does auto repair, and you have to have someone that does the maintenance. And so, when you bring in a vehicle – now I don’t know what kind of vehicle you have, but even when I get a smashed windshield because of a rock – now I have sensors in my windshield. So, you have to have someone that not only just goes in and replaces the windshield now but they can calibrate that sensor and that understands what needs to be done. That’s not a four-year degree, that is to be able to be specialists in your field.

Ed Bernardon: I think you’re making a great point. As we move to electric cars, there’s no more oil in the engine, it’s clean. the grease part is going down and down and down and the computer part of working on that car is going up and up. Sometimes one might think “Well, if I become a plumber, they might look down on me because I don’t have a college degree. But yeah.”. So, there’s the I don’t know if it’s a mystique or just the praise that you get for getting the degree, but as the product itself, as the car becomes more sophisticated, as the infrastructure becomes more sophisticated, the ability to work with that with a college degree or without, especially if the pay is equivalent or even greater than a college degree, I would think would make that very, very attractive to someone that’s just getting out of high school and looking at what to do with their life.

Elaina Farnsworth: Yeah. And I can’t think of I mean, when we talk about the stigma, I think it’s changing. Because I can’t think of a more interesting conversation than somebody saying to me, “Hey, what are you doing when you get out of high school?” “I decided to specialize in electricity, and I decided to do charging station for electric vehicles so that we can have less of a carbon footprint.” I can’t think anybody that’s gonna says, “Oh, you didn’t go to college?”


Ed Bernardon: . And they’re part of the solution, right? Like all the electric car drivers out there.

Elaina Farnsworth: Right, exactly.

Ed Bernardon: Now, is your organization US-based or is it international? Because I would think that there are so many people in the world that if they were aware of this, you’d be able to take better advantage of all the skill and the capability that we have out there to bring people into this future of transportation world.

Elaina Farnsworth: Well, we are headquartered in the US, but we are global. And one of the unique parts about the NEXT Education, we really believe that again you can’t have experts unless they’re working in the field. So, we reach out to our global experts in China, and Japan, and Europe. And we have global SMEs as well as global students because when you look as this is growing, the industries of automotive and infrastructure, really, they’re working toward being able to have the same standards, not exactly but at least consistent. Because I’m not going to want to go to my next County if it’s safer to drive in one County than it is to drive in the other. More or less if we can get goods and services globally in a different way, you don’t want to be left out. So, we do recognize and support education globally all over the world because we think we know that people in the US need to know what’s going on in Japan, people in Japan need to know what’s going on in Europe, and we all need to share information to have the most effective workforce.

Ed Bernardon: Besides being on a podcast, how do you get the word out there about what NEXT Education does?

Elaina Farnsworth: It’s people like you, Ed, that’s it. Traditional media, we do social media but our biggest driver, our students. Because when we go into companies, and they begin to see a difference in their workers, and then they call us back in and we work with a lot of federal agencies and a lot of the students will come in and they say, “You know what, I was a student but I’d also love to be a contributor because here are projects that I work on.” So, we do have a lot of organic growth because when people feel empowered they want to become part of the solution.  

Ed Bernardon: Speaking of empowering, can you tell us a little bit about the Top 100 Women in Cyber and Mobility program that I know you’re very proud of?

Elaina Farnsworth: Yes, I’m very, very proud of that. The way that the top 100 women came about is because we do have a shortage of women that are working in this industry. We have come a thousand times better than we were years ago when I started out. We have really positive influences like Mary Barra and numerous, Alison Malik, there are so many women that are making an impact. I know you love this, Ed, I always talk about the Scully effect.

Ed Bernardon: Yes, from the X-files.

Elaina Farnsworth: From the X-files.

Ed Bernardon: I’m sure there are reruns on it. There are people out there watching it now, but for those that watched it a while ago, Dana Scully was the technician, the woman on the show that was one of the big stars.

Elaina Farnsworth: Yes, she was the major star. So, if you think about it back in the ’90s, there was this great show called the X-files, It was a very innovative program at the time and I don’t believe the producers, or maybe they did, did it on purpose. But what happened was until then, there were not a lot of scientists that were shown on television in a professional capacity that were women. And so, when many years later, there was a study that was done study showed that out of the 2000 women, over 60% had known about or seen Agent Scully as a role model. Because when you begin to see people and women specifically in a role that you had never seen before as a young woman, I began to relate. Well, I’m a young woman, why can’t I be an engineer? And a lot of females that I know that are in those high-powered leadership roles began to have that same feeling. So, in a similar fashion, we launched just two years ago the Top 100 Women in Cyber that are making an automotive, that are making a difference we seek out these women and they’re nominated by other women. And then we go through a board and they say yes, this woman meets the requirements and then we give them a nice little ceremony and have a nice dinner and talk about things that we’re really passionate about. But the number one thing that we really are the proudest of is the only thing that is asked of these women is they pick one cause, or one young woman either in a group to mentor. Now that mentorship can be in the form of a letter or it can be in the form of a phone call or it can be a true mentor session where you identify a young woman that you think would have potential and you share with her, not only the good but also the bad but then we start to see a sense of community where women that have overcome things and that have done really well in their career that are making a difference. They’re able to then pull up those other women that are considering roles in automotive and cyber and autonomy. And they’re really able to take hold of that passion and say, “You know what, there are other women out there that will support me, and maybe I can do this.” And that is a huge, huge goal of mine is to help grow this industry with more women.

Ed Bernardon: Have you ever had Dana Scully come in and speak to your group for that extra little bit of motivation?

Elaina Farnsworth: No, but that’s a great idea!

Ed Bernardon: Well, it sounds like you’re doing enough, maybe someday there’ll be a Farnsworth effect that does the same thing.

Elaina Farnsworth: Hey, if I drive down the street and I see all of the vehicles connected and I see workers that are able to make a ton of money and have a real passion for what they do, that’s all the recognition I need.

Ed Bernardon: Well, listen, I want to thank you so much for opening our eyes to this whole other side of the future transportation here that most people really never even think about. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, you’re welcome, Ed, it was my pleasure. I appreciate it.

Ed Bernardon: Now, before we let you go, there’s a tradition to have our rapid-fire section. We’re going to shoot a few questions that you hear so that people can get to know you a little bit better. You’re ready?

Elaina Farnsworth: I am ready as I’m going to be.

Ed Bernardon: The questions are easy, no worries. What was the first car you ever bought or owned?

Elaina Farnsworth: I owned a Toyota Celica. It was a blue Toyota Celica that I got for my high school graduation.

Ed Bernardon: Did you pass your driver’s test on the first try?

Elaina Farnsworth: Yes. But I shouldn’t have.

Ed Bernardon: Oh, what did you do? What was the big mistake? It sounds like it left an impression on you.

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, within the first two years of driving I had four accidents, which is why I’m in autonomy. I think that no one should have to go through that pain.

Ed Bernardon: Did you ever get any speeding tickets in the middle of all that?

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, I got plenty of speeding tickets. But I think the worst one was when I had a car accident, I was going where I wasn’t supposed to be. My father and mother were at dinner three hours away because they had gone for a long weekend. And I told them I hit a deer when really I was going too fast and crashed the car and my father came home and said, “No, no deer. You were going about 80 here, you put on your brakes, you spun around, you hit this embankment and you totaled the car.”

Ed Bernardon: Your dad must have been a deer hunter, he probably recognized no way a deer could have done this.

Elaina Farnsworth: Really smart.

Ed Bernardon: So, in the future of autonomous cars, you’re going to be able to have what one might call a living room on wheels. So, you can have whatever. You just pick what you have in your living room in your house, you can have it in your living room on wheels. So, what does your living room on wheels look like for that five-hour trip, say between Detroit and I don’t know Pittsburgh. What’s your living room on wheels look like for that five-hour ride?

Elaina Farnsworth: I would have a really comfy sofa that I could look out and see the side of the window so wouldn’t have to see the vehicles. I would have no computer in there and I would have music and books. That would be… I would love to just sit down for a few hours and read a book and listen to some nice classical music and not have any phone, no technology, and one window.

Ed Bernardon: What book would you pick?

Elaina Farnsworth: Yeah, one of my classic favorites is the Unbearable Lightness of Being. And I haven’t read that in a long time by Milan Kundera and I think I would take that one.

Ed Bernardon: What person living or not would you want to have spent that five-hour car ride with you?

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, this is a good one. Jacqueline Kennedy. I believe I would have her ride to talk through what she did in her ability to be classical and innovative at the same time. And being a positive role model when that really wasn’t something that she would do back in those days is to be such a strong woman in her role.

Ed Bernardon: What hobbies do you have that have nothing to do with work?

Elaina Farnsworth: I paint. I am an artist. I paint acrylic art and I cook. I’m the main cook, Chef.

Ed Bernardon: What’s the last thing you cooked that you’re really proud of?

Elaina Farnsworth: Oh, gosh. The last thing, I guess it’s really simple. I cooked a lasagna just a couple of days ago and it was so good.  

Ed Bernardon: If Jackie Kennedy would come over to your house, is that what you’d make for?

Elaina Farnsworth: I would, in a nice chianti.

Ed Bernardon: What do you wish you were better at?

Elaina Farnsworth: Saying no.

Ed Bernardon: What do you wish you understood better?

Elaina Farnsworth: Teenagers.

Ed Bernardon: So I bet you have some teenagers there’s no doubt. If you could have an answer to any question, what would that question be?

Elaina Farnsworth: Why not? If I could ask any person, why would you not do it? You have one life to live, why would you not do what you feel in your heart is right? So, “Why not?” would be my question.

Ed Bernardon: If you could uninvent one thing, what would that be?

Elaina Farnsworth: Television.

Ed Bernardon: And if you could magically invent anything with the magic wand what would it be?

Elaina Farnsworth: What pops in my mind which is crazy, it’s teleportation. I don’t know if I’ve been watching too many movies lately, but it would be great to be able to go places without an immediate… Guess what, autonomy can kind of be like that. But yeah, teleportation.

Ed Bernardon: Alright, here’s the last question. Tell us something about yourself that would surprise your friends and family if you told them.

Elaina Farnsworth: Well, I would say that I love skydiving, but that’s not really a surprise. I think what it is, is I think that what may surprise people is how much I do care. So, there’s a lot of days where I come home and I think about how much work that there is to do, and I get overwhelmed. And many times I think, how are we ever going to convince people to be in this because I’m overwhelmed. And just sometimes, I just don’t think I can do enough.

Ed Bernardon: Well, I think that makes sense. I mean, sometimes we forget that you see these people doing these great things and you say, “Well, they’re just regular people.”. They get overwhelmed too, it’s not easy.

Elaina Farnsworth: I come home, I eat lasagna and ice cream and I think “Oh my gosh, did I do enough today?”.

Ed Bernardon: And then you go to sleep, right?

Elaina Farnsworth: I have my chianti and I go to sleep.

Ed Bernardon: That’s what a bottle of chianti does for you. Well, listen, thank you so much. That was fantastic. Great rapid-fire section.

Elaina Farnsworth - Guest, CEO, The NEXT Education

Elaina Farnsworth – Guest, CEO, The NEXT Education

Elaina Farnsworth is an acclaimed speaker, published writer and thought leader in the Autonomous Vehicle and Cybersecurity industries. She currently serves as the CEO of The NEXT Education, a remote learning platform that offers knowledge to innovate and advance the intelligent transportation and new mobility industry. She has been recognized as one of Industry Era’s Top 10 Women Leaders of 2020, a 2018 Top 10 Influencer for North American Automotive Suppliers, 2015 TechWeek100, among other awards. Currently, she serves as an advisor for many international and state-based education programs. She was appointed Director of Global Communications for the Board of Directors of the International Connected Vehicle Trade Association (CVTA) and sits as an advisor to other educational institutions and non-profit organizations.

Ed Bernardon, Vice President Strategic Automotive Initiatives – Host

Ed Bernardon, Vice President Strategic Automotive Initiatives – Host

Ed is currently VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industries Software. Responsibilities include strategic planning and business development in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership which includes hosting the Future Car Podcast and development of cross divisional projects. Previously he was a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software acquired by Siemens in 2011, he previously directed the Automation and Design Technology Group at MIT Draper Laboratory.  Ed holds an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue, and MBA from Butler.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/podcasts/the-future-car/educating-the-automotive-industry-workforce-of-the-future/