2011 SAE World Congress -It's a Good Time To Be an Engineer in Detroit… or Pune

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
2011 sae world congress it s a good time to be an engineer in detroit or pune

Engineers living in southeastern Michigan have had a rough go of it these past few years. As the US automakers bled money, lost market share, retrenched and in the case of GM & Chrysler eventually went through bankruptcy, they shed more and more engineers. The talent, skill and many, many years of experience was jettisoned as successive layers of fat, muscle and then bone were cut out of the domestic automakers in their restructurings (Ford under Alan Mullaly went through what was effectively a restructuring financed by mortgaging the company for $26 billion).

The first tentative signs of the Big 3’s recovery have been based on some pretty decent product so it’s clear that the automakers and their vendors still have a well of in-house talent from which to draw, but with GM & Ford currently banking substantial profits and Chrysler appearing to approach profitability (according the Sergio), the auto industry as a whole is gearing up by going on a hiring spree. Engineers, particularly electrical and chemical engineers (see EVs, hybrids and batteries) are once again in strong demand in Detroit. Companies looking for mechanical and software engineers were actively hiring as well.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has its annual world congress in Detroit every April. Even more so than the huge North American International Auto Show, the SAE World Congress shows how Detroit is truly the Motor City, the epicenter of the global car and truck industry. In addition to keynote speeches by politicians and executives, there are scores of technical panels on every aspect of automotive technology. The engineers come from every corner of the globe, and much of the floor of Cobo Hall is filled with displays from vendors and the OEM companies as well.

More significantly, for the first time in years, outside of the hall Cobo’s long concourse was densely populated with recruiting booths from dozens of car companies and automotive suppliers. Ford is looking for 750 engineers, about 10% of their anticipated new hires by next year. GM and Chrysler announced late last year that they’d each be hiring 1,000 engineers. TRW practically begged me to mention in this article that they are trying to fill 200 Electrical Engineer positions in the Detroit area.

In addition to recruiters from the domestic automakers and US based vendors, German companies like Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Bosch were hiring, as were Mahindra and Tata from India. It’s worthy of noting to those who have declared Michigan moribund that most of those companies, and many of the most technologically advanced vendors with display on the show floor have facilities in the Detroit region. Most of those jobs being offered are located in Michigan. As a matter of fact, Tata was the only company that I asked that said they were recruiting people specifically to relocate outside the Detroit area – in this case to Pune, India. Tata is looking for divisional, assistant general and deputy general managers, plus about a dozen specific engineering team leaders in a variety of automotive disciplines.

The dark winter of the auto industry’s discontent may be over. That’s not the voice of the turtle you hear, it’s the beeping of barcode readers and cell phones as recruiters gather data from potential hires.

There were some interesting new engine technologies on display inside and I hope to report on them in a separate post (with an update on my Ecomotors posts – among TTAC’s most popular entries), but in the meantime the most important news from the SAE convention is that the auto industry is on a hiring spree. The need to develop new engines, batteries, motors and control systems that CAFE and other fuel/emissions regulations will require, not to mention the competitive need for a technological edge as design cycles shrink, means that automotive engineers now appear to have a sellers’ market.

Of course one convention or job fair does not an entire industry revive, but it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the activity in the job recruiting area was frenzied. Just to check, I asked Mr. Lawson, who claims to give Detroit’s best shoeshine at his stand in the Cobo concourse, not far from where the recruiting was going on. I asked him if business was better than last year’s SAE convention. He said definitely and that it was much better than from the year before, 2009 when GM and Chrysler were busy going through bankruptcy. Detroit can be a nice place when there’s some hiring going on.

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3 of 17 comments
  • SimonAlberta SimonAlberta on Apr 15, 2011

    I think there is something seriously wrong with an economic model that has industry in a constant cycle of boom and bust with all the attendant carnage to individual employees, their families, communities, small investors and, to some degree, whole countries. And it all comes down to greed. A mere hint of an upturn and its all pedal-to-the-metal and lets-all-make-a-killing-while-the-gettings-good. Then they're all shocked and bemoaning their "misfortune" and looking for hand-outs when it all goes tits-up....AGAIN! Will mankind EVER learn from past mistakes? What would be wrong with letting production flow along at a nice SUSTAINABLE and PROFITABLE level that doesn't try to wring every last cent out of the market but neither does it lead to dangerously high costs as soon as things start slowing down. Indeed, if most manufacturers operated like that surely there would be less "slowing down" occuring because employment would be much steadier. Yeah, yeah...I know. I'm a madman whistling in the dark. I just hate the modern world in many respects. Sorry for the rant. G'day all!

    • Zackman Zackman on Apr 15, 2011

      "Will mankind EVER learn from past mistakes?" @SimonAlberta: It's all very simple: Jeremiah 10:23 says: "...it does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step."

  • Losangelesengineer Losangelesengineer on May 08, 2011

    I am a Mechanical Engineer and live in Los Angeles and now will move to Detroit Michigan for a better opportunity. I have around 15 years of experience mostly in Aerospace and now I want to work in Automotive Industry. CALIFORNIA ECONOMY HAS COLLAPSED. If someone is hiring and is looking for a good mechanical engineer, then please send me an email and I will send my resume. Please note I will move to Detroit in mid of May, 2011. Email: losangelesengineer@yahoo.com

  • SCE to AUX Faraday Future shouldn't even be here, and they won't make it. Other ultra-expensive EVs are fun projects for companies who can fund them from other revenue.The Lucid Air is a strange one because it starts at $87k but can run to over $250k. Most cars jump only around 50% for top trims, not 300%.As for EVs - don't give me more power (easy); give me more range (hard). And quicker filling time.
  • Dukeisduke It's funny how stuff like this crosses over between sites nowadays - there's an article about it today on MacRumors: Polestar 2 Software Update Brings Wave of New Apple CarPlay Features - MacRumors
  • Fahrvergnugen "If you’re itching for an ultra-exclusive EV – and who isn’t – "Me...
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