Auto Industry Hiring Up for Electric Vehicle Boon

Mar 17, 2011

GM headquartersDomestic automakers -- on the cusp of emerging from nearly a decade of job cuts and market-share losses -- are scrambling to fill thousands of engineering positions after shedding thousands over the last 10 years through job cuts and early-retirement offers.

GM, Ford and Chrysler are working with colleges and universities to develop courses to train and retrain the engineers who will be expected to develop tomorrow's electric and hybrid cars and are trying to recruit from other industries.

This year, U.S. auto industry sales are expected to increase about 10% to 12.5 million. But that's still a far cry from the 16 million or more sold annually for most of the last decade.

"I have confidence that the auto industry will come back," said Rihong Mo, 50, who left General Electric's locomotive division in November after more than 11 years with the company to lead a team of engineers at Ford. "This is the frontier of electric motors."

"There are a lot of companies looking for people with certain skill sets," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "It's creating a dilemma and it is just the start."

Despite the current hiring spree, engineers who lost their jobs over recent years may find it difficult to get jobs without additional training in electric vehicles.

Ten years ago, when Ann Marie Sastry, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, started teaching courses in advanced batteries, fewer than 20 would sign up. Several years later, it was drawing more than 100 per class.

Still, Sastry, who also is CEO of lithium-ion battery startup Sakti 3, said universities must strike a balance between curricula that train students for the future without getting ahead of the industry.

"There is no major automaker without a serious play in hybrid and electric vehicles," she said. "But these vehicles, in the aggregate, comprise well under 10% of the consumer vehicle portfolio."

[via Detroit Free Press]

Photo courtesy of paul (dex) and re-used under the Creative Commons license.