DETROIT -- For Kathryn Blackwell, the Detroit auto show served as a place to recruit for her company more than analyzing the specs of up-and-coming cars.
"The aim was to get on the show floor and network for recruiting purposes," the NAFTA region vice president of communications for Continental Automotive Systems told Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News. "As we're increasing, we need to hire more, and we're doing what we can to recruit."
For suppliers like Continental, the 2009 falling-out of the auto industry seems to have left an irremovable mark on its much-needed engineers who either willingly or forcefully jumped ship because of the economic uncertainty of the time. Continental has 150 posted positions to fill.
"There are a lot of aspects (as to why they are not choosing auto suppliers)," said Santosh Anishetty, head of passive safety and advanced driver assistance systems for Continental.. "A quality engineer with eight or 10 years of experience is a king, or queen, because they are often the most experienced at the place."
The more than 300,000 U.S. jobs eliminated during the industry downturn caused talent to look elsewhere, said Neil De Koker, CEO of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, which represents auto suppliers.
"The bottom line is the sense of security we lost," De Koker said. "The technically qualified people we lost have joined other parts of the industry and the question is: How do we get those people back?"
People finding jobs
Martha Schanno, recruitment sales manager for the Society of Automotive Engineers, said despite the concerns about recruitment, more positions are being filled in the automotive and commercial vehicle sectors.
"It's looking very positive again for this year," she said of a job fair the organization will host in April.
Schanno has been organizing events to connect employers in the automotive and aerospace industries with candidates since 2006. She admits that when she began, the organization had more companies looking to hire than it did candidates available. The momentum shifted in 2008 and 2009 when many engineers were laid off, making for more candidates than companies looking to hire.
But since 2010, she has seen a "great mix" of both candidates and companies hiring.
"We've seen an increase on our job board of new candidates or older ones updating their resumes, but we've also seen a lot of new employers on there as well," she said. "It's a nice rise on both sides and this year is starting out very, very positive."
Schanno said many of the positions are based in Michigan, though some are in southern states and others yet elsewhere with automotive industry supplier companies.
She has noticed "a very small" number of candidates shy away from the automotive industry and move toward industries in the energy or to medical engineering sectors.
The only trend she has noticed in the automotive industry is a very specific, targeted employer seeking out candidates that fulfills specific qualifications.
"There might be a cry of 'we can't find the talent' but it's almost as if they're writing such a targeted, niche idea that they're missing a lot of talent because they don't have that specific, tiny thing," Schanno said.
In 2011, the average salary of an automotive engineer ranged between $55,955 and $117,916, according to Payscale.com.Schanno believes the increase in hiring is a sign of recovery, but remains cautiously optimistic.
"Those to me are all the signs that the recovery is there," she said. "Let's hope that it doesn't go back to the problem that the talent isn't there for the company."
Meanwhile, several automakers and suppliers announced expansions last week at the Detroit auto show. Among them:
- Nissan Motor Co. announced it will hire 150 this year at its Nissan Technical Center North America in suburban Detroit and an additional 60 in 2013. The increase is due to Nissan putting more vehicles into production in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil, said Carla Bailo, Nissan Technical Center North America president.
- Hyundai America Technical Center Inc. announced a $15 million expansion of its research and development facility near Ann Arbor, Mich., which will lead to 50 engineering jobs.
- Schaeffler Group North America, the U.S. arm of the German auto supplier, announced it would hire 1,000 employees in 2012, including 150 engineers at its technical centers.
- Denso International America Inc. announced the expansion of its U.S. headquarters in suburban Detroit to house labs for battery cooling and in-dash technology engineering. The new labs will create up to 50 new jobs.
- Tata Group unveiled its $20,000 electric car, the eMo, designed in part from its engineering staff at its subsidiary Tata Technologies Inc. Tata has hired more than 500 employees across metro Detroit and is looking to fill 107 more positions in 2012, said Daniel Saad, director of communications for North America.
Dustin Walsh is a reporter for Crain's Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.