Auto/Economy
12:32 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

More jobs than job seekers, automakers seek qualified people

After laying-off tens of thousands of employees in 2009, automakers and engineering firms are racing to fill new positions.

Paul Eisenstein writes on The Detroit Bureau that at a recent career fair, job openings weren't in short supply - job seekers were.

Or more precisely, qualified job-seekers.

Eisenstein writes "the real rush is to find trained engineers."

two years ago, Altair Engineering...“had plenty of applications and no jobs.”  A few months ago, they put out the word that “they had 700 engineering slots and no one to fill them.”

This explanation is offered as to why there's a dearth of applicants.

Part of the problem is that the industry now needs to attract a largely new workforce at a time when engineering schools are struggling to fill slots and turn out fresh talent.

The bulk of the engineering employees released by the struggling Detroit makers over the last five years were older workers nearing the end of their careers.  They were often given buyouts that helped nudge them into a less painful retirement.  “And now...they just aren’t interested in coming back.”

And even if older engineers did apply for these jobs, one expert says their skill set might be out of date because changes in technology are happening so quickly.

This shortage of engineering talent is driving up costs for employers - bad for employers, but good for potential employees.

One group is working to change this. David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research has started "Building American's Tomorrow," a non-profit group working to attract young people to the engineering field.

Bryce Hoffman of the Detroit News writes the group is working to improve the image of engineering to young people who "have a dim view of manufacturing and the auto industry in particular."

Building America's Tomorrow grew out of the industry's efforts during the recent economic crisis to educate Washington about the economic importance of the auto sector.

"It's really an outgrowth of all the chaos in the auto industry," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of CAR and one of the founders of the organization. "Everyone was worried about whether we would survive. We did, but now we're not sure where we're going find the talent we need to stay in business."

It's a long term problem. And Cole says "if we don't do something about it, we're going to lose a core part of our economy."