By on December 14, 2010

The recent “Carpocalypse” has not been kind to automotive engineers, as automakers cut back on Research and Development and fired white collar workers with abandon. Now, with sales regaining some momentum, OEMs and suppliers are hiring engineers again… and they’re having to work to make the hires. The supplier Ricardo recently had to take out billboards and radio ads in order to hire qualified automotive engineers… and this in a state with 12.8% unemployment. CEO Kent Niederhoffer tells Bloomberg

We’re all playing in the same sandbox, competing for some of the same talent. It isn’t as simple as throwing a shingle out there and saying ‘Job Opening.’ Attracting this kind of talent has gotten absolutely tougher and we’re trying to raise our head above the crowd.

From suppliers like Ricardo, TRW and Continental to OEMs like GM, Chrysler and Tata, everyone in Detroit seems to hiring engineers that seem to have mysteriously left town. In fact, some 82 percent of suppliers are adding to their engineering staff while only 25 percent are hiring managers. Many of the positions are for specialists versed in things like EV development and drivetrain engineering, as automakers gear up to meet rising fuel economy standards. Still, part of the problem seems to be that there literally aren’t as many engineers  looking for work in the Detroit area as there once were. One applicant at at Tata’s job fair, where some 400 engineering consultants were being sought tells Bloomberg,

There are a lot fewer people at this one than the others I’ve been to in the last year or so

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22 Comments on “Mothers, Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Automotive Engineers (For The Moment)...”

  • avatar

    I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in May 2002 on the heels of what could have been the beta-Carpocalypse were it not for the Carpocalypse 1.0-creating subprime lending/0% interest volume pumping that ensued.  Nobody was hiring that I could discern, unless you wanted to specialize in cost-cutting or redesigning for offshore production.  I managed to secure an interview, in Detroit, with Federal Mogul..probably because they were bankrupt at the time.  It was a group interview where I was the only male and the only person not from Michigan.  Needless to say, I was not extended a job offer.
    From my limited experience trying to gain employment as a new grad that year the problem is two-fold: Nobody wants to work and live in Michigan, and nobody wants to hire someone who isn’t already in Michigan.  Considering that the housing crash probably scared everybody away from that state, plus the people who were downsized from the automotive industry are likely too gun-shy to give it another go, they’re never going to fill those positions until they move out of state.
    The first automaker (that isn’t based in the developing world) that wants to do automotive R&D in central Virginia will have me waiting in line.

    • 0 avatar

      Volkswagen USA is headquartered in northern Virginia. Not against moving a bit north, are you?

    • 0 avatar

      akitadog: You bet I’m against it!  They’re in “Northern Virginia” which is code for the ever-expanding metropolis of idiotic Washington DC.  I’m just south of the Richmond area and already feel like I’m too far north, but I’m not moving anywhere for a good while.

  • avatar

    I would love to be a car designer some day :) But I would like to work for someone who likes cool cars, so I’m guessing only the UK kit car marked or Californian custom cars….

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The beatings will continue until morale improves.

    With the way the domestic car companies have treated their staff who would want to work for one, unless he was hiding out from the police?

    • 0 avatar

      I will NEVER go back. They couldn’t offer me enough. I’d rather spend weeks in the bush on a survey crew getting eaten alive by blackflies and mosquitoes than ever go back there. Ever.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    So, how much are they paying? I’d guess not enough.

  • avatar

    I went to engineering school through the early 2000s, and decided early in my freshman year that although cars are a lifelong passion for me I had zero interest in working in the auto industry.  I did my best to convince all my friends to follow suit.
    This college was located in Michigan, so of course most of my friends ignored me and went to work for auto in one way or another.  Five years later more then half of them are working in other industries due to a combination of layoffs and frustration; and many of the stragglers are actively looking to get out of automotive and out of Michigan at the earliest opportunity.
    I work in a beautiful town in the Appalachians far away from Michigan, in a field that is totally unrelated to automobiles.  We kept making money and hiring new engineers all through the recent economic downturn, and were absolutely buried in resumes from ex-auto engineers fleeing the bloodbath.  The best of them now work here, and won’t be going back to MI any time soon.
    I suspect that’s happened all over the country.  When you lay off your best assets en masse or drive them insane with frustration and neglect, any of them that are worth employing will find other better opportunities.  Eventually that leaves you with a bunch of openings and nothing but unqualified goons to fill them.

  • avatar

    Attracting this kind of talent has gotten absolutely tougher and we’re trying to raise our head above the crowd.

    Hey CEO, here’s an idea you may not have absorbed at MBA D*bag School — try paying them better, not treating them like dirty diapers, and not shoving them out the door at the first breath of cold economic wind.

    That will be $5000. Thank you for using McKinsey Consulting.

  • avatar

    +1 on all of the above. I started college in 1984 at what is now Kettering University (co-op engineering school) in Flint, completed my studies back in WA state, and ended up working in the west-coast automotive (heavy truck and off-highway design/mfg.) world.  Same story out here, bean counters and MBAs have taken over in the past 20 years and view engineers as a necessary evil while production jobs are shipped elsewhere.

    Where I used to co-op at Delco Electronics in Kokomo, IN, there used to be hundreds if not a few thousand highly-talented engineers of all disciplines; now there is only a tiny handful left.

    What jobs that are out there seem to be highly specialized as was mentioned above (ie EV battery charge algorithm programmer) which severely limits the applicant pool.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 to the last sentence.  I live and work as an automotive engineer in Metro Detroit and yes, you do see ads for Big 3 engineers, but they are looking for new college grads (ie. we only offer low pay) with 30 years of experience working on nuclear powered hybrid motorcycles.  Not gonna happen.  Plus, there are a lot of automotive engineers, like me, who are within a year of retiring and not looking for another job.
      Maybe Tata Engineering should offer a free Nano car to every new employee?

  • avatar

    China sticker shock…

    I am looking for a new engineering manager in China.    The average applicant that has knowledge in our field is asking USD $53,000.    They are not responding to lower counter offers.    Plus I will need to pay a head-hunter 20%.

    Hopefully overall Chinese engineering wage inflation will continue.  (but not for my hires!)   That will reverse the course of companies chasing the lowest common denominator wage worldwide and look at developing markets locally.    

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Incidentally here’s the pay rates in Australia, for a subsidiary of a recently bankrupt oEM
    grad 66k
    8 years out of uni 88k
    16 years 105k

    They are a bit low compared with other companies. That’s with 4 wks annual leave 9% super contribution and so on.

  • avatar

    Hey I resemble this story. as a surviving engineer in an OEM I have seen 10 years of carnage . the younger guys had time to start a life elsewhere and did. most of the college age kids in this area have seen what has happend ot their friends parents and have not wanted to get an engineering degree. the ones that have try to avoid this industry. How gm treated the delphi salaryied retirees sure hasent helped either. 

  • avatar

    The company I work for, Cummins cannot find enough people (mainly engineers). The same is true with our competitors like CAT who recently took out a full page ad in the local paper (The Republic, Columbus IN) trying to poach natural gas engineers.

    As for wages, Cummins is not paying 6 figures straight out of grad school but compared to some of the figures quoted as reasonable in the story of  Lake Orion wage cut would be considered generous 

  • avatar

    No thanks.

    I worked for a Tier 1 supplier twice.  The second time it was a week before I said to myself “Oh right, that’s why I got out of this industry” and I got out again after 10 months.
    Panic, Anger, Politics and Stress.  Building cars isn’t near as fun or inspirational as you’d think.

    Now the mining industry on the other hand.  Wow, well planned projects, clients who are sane and pay their bills.  Suppliers who deliver what they said and don’t go out of business suddenly.

    It would take a lot to get me to go back, like starvation of my children.  Barring that you guys in the industry can keep it, and you have my respect for being able to do it.

  • avatar

    Who would want to be an Engineer in a company that is MBA-infested, political-terrorist-owned, and located in a bombed-out and violent (Both citizens and politicians) city?

  • avatar

    A couple years ago there was an uptick in the number of Michigan plates I saw in Silicon Valley.  That’s slowed down now, I am seeing more from the plains states, but quite a few Michigan transplants came out here.  A buddy of mine hired one of them, a ME.  She worked for GM and is not going back to Michigan.

  • avatar

    I’d take that chance, in Chrysler. Provided they supply an H1-B or green card.

  • avatar
    Mike C.

    Michigan is one thing, Detroit is another…

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