According to industry experts, the recent economic downturn holds the promise of a bright future for automotive engineers who are willing and able to adapt to the new paradigm.
In the coming years, automotive engineers will find themselves involved in a collaborative, global industry that will require them to abandon the physical prototypes of the past and adopt virtual tools, math modeling, embedded systems, control software and other evolving technologies.
Engineers who are able to adapt will help reshape the auto industry in dramatic ways, and employment opportunities are likely to be plentiful.
According to David Cole, Chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, ‘The big picture for the next few years looks pretty good.’ Despite wave after wave of cuts industry-wide, he went on to say, ‘Everybody has been cutting to the bone. What we will undoubtedly do as we come out of this is we will realize that we’ve overcut. We always do this. Then we go out on a hiring spree.’
That’s good news for the long term, but what about the present and the immediate future? The turnaround is expected to take years and pressing financial need have forced many ‘down-sized’ engineers onto other career paths.
Rob Kleinbaum, Managing Director for RAK & Company, a management and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in the automotive industry, ‘People who have been laid off are depressed and shell-shocked.’ He went on to say that many ‘haven’t gotten over the sense of being victims. Some people are even going to say, ‘ËœTo heck with engineering.”
For those who can ride out the storm and gain the necessary training, experts cite a number of reasons to be optimistic. For those just starting their careers in engineering, the picture is even rosier. The baby boom and bust will create a huge demand for engineers in the not-too-distant future.
A recent study conducted by the Center for Automotive Research contends that within the next four to five years the United States faces a shortage of approximately ten million skilled workers, including engineers. That figure is expected to grow to approximately 30 million within 12-15 years.
As the number of skilled workers is shrinking, the number of automobiles being scrapped each year is about 13 million. The result, according to some experts, is a growing need for new vehicles designed by the next generation of automotive engineers.
Population growth rates also figure into the equation. As the U.S. birth rate increases, birth rates in Germany and Japan (both major auto producers) are declining. According to David Cole, these foreign auto makers will place their manufacturing facilities in the U.S. In fact, he claims this trend has already begun.
Those who are able to remain in or return to automotive engineering will likely find the corporate culture vastly different. In order to survive, Rob Kleinbaum claims that domestic auto makers must embrace the engineering-focused corporate cultures found in foreign automotive companies.
Kleinbaum claims, ‘Japanese car companies have real engineering cultures. But in domestic companies, engineers know that the route to the top is through finance, marketing and general management.’
For automotive engineers who can weather the current storms and those entering the field over the next several years, the future may indeed be bright.