Automotive Careers Outlook
The automotive industry continues its slow recovery from the lean years of the late 1980s, when the Big Three laid off thousands of workers and closed entire factories, though it faces new challenges caused by rising fuel prices. The industry is expected to continue to evolve in the first decade of the new century and forecasts call for manufacturing jobs to continue to decline. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry will grow by 6 percent through 2014, compared to an expected 14 percent expansion for all industries combined. Employment in the motor vehicle manufacturing segment of the industry is expected to increase by only 2 percent. Employment increases are expected in vehicle parts manufacturing (6 percent) and motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing (8 percent).
Much of the recent recovery attempts in the automotive industry have been characterized by cost-cutting measures, including further elimination of manufacturing jobs and consolidation of large companies. In 1998, the German company Daimler-Benz merged with the American Big Three automaker Chrysler in an effort by both companies to increase cost-efficiency. Such mergers often result in the elimination of jobs where efforts would be duplicated under the new organization. Further cuts have also come as American automakers implement lean production measures used by their foreign competitors. Lean production is characterized by increased automation, quality control by workers on the line, and smaller, just-in-time inventories. Today’s automotive industry workers work more hours for less pay than their predecessors did 20 years ago. Still, auto manufacturing jobs pay well compared to other manufacturing jobs: Most automotive production workers who are union members and employed by one of the Big Three automakers make more than $60,000 annually and receive excellent benefits packages.
Competition among U.S. automakers and their foreign competitors will be fierce as the Big Three attempt to lure back aging baby boomers from their Japanese automobiles, while both battle over capturing younger markets.
In efforts to level the playing field and to benefit from cooperative manufacturing (i.e., shared risk and technology), the Big Three have teamed up with their Japanese competitors in so-called joint ventures. Ford and Mazda teamed up to produce the Ford Probe. GM and Toyota worked together to produce the Geo Metro and Toyota Corolla. The Big Three have also joined forces among themselves to research and study technical challenges.
Research and development (R&D) is one area where job prospects are expected to remain strong. Major industry players are currently funding billions of dollars each year in R&D and are likely to continue doing so. Fierce competition forces automakers to produce cars packed with new technology, from amenities to safety features, one step above their rival’s. One major area of competition is in the development of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)—automobiles that combine an electric engine with internal combustion. Hybrids have better fuel economy and create lower pollution emissions than conventional vehicles. Honda and Toyota both have HEVs on the market, and American manufacturers have begun to introduce hybrid systems into their vehicles. R&D jobs will be mostly for engineers and scientists in the industry. Stricter air pollution laws are also spurring R&D to rethink how cars are powered.
The automotive industry is strongly affected by the health of the economy. A 10- to 20-percent change in employment from one year to the next is not unusual. Increased fuel prices have had a major effect on automobile sales, so manufacturers will have to struggle to adapt. In general, there is less consumer demand for cars and trucks during economic recession, and manufacturers usually respond by firing or laying off workers.
Declines will occur especially for machine setter, operator, assembler, and tender occupations. Employment of office and administrative support workers will grow slowly due to expanding office and warehouse automation. There will be some job growth for engineers, industrial production managers, business operations specialists, and computer specialists.
Careers in Automotive Field:
- Automobile Collision Repairers
- Automobile Sales Workers
- Automobile Service Technicians
- Automotive Industry Workers
- Diesel Mechanics