In the mood for an economic turnaround

  • 22-Apr-2009 01:36 EDT
Chris Bell checks his email on the SAE show floor. "It keeps me in the loop. I'm constantly checking. I want to answer emails as quickly as possible," said Bell.

A major funk plagues the overall economy and that bad mood is definitely leaving its mark on the people tied into the automotive sector.

Looking for work is a full-time job. Just ask David Werner. With 30-plus years in the automotive industry, Werner last worked as a contracted manufacturing engineer project manager for General Motors' full-size trucks. But that was nearly a year ago.

Today, however, Werner is considerably less optimistic about his job search than he was several months ago. "They're looking for a 12 on a scale of one to 10, so if I'm a 9.5 I guess that doesn't cut it," Werner said while standing in a long line at SAE's career fair on the show floor.

While Werner had and lost a job due to grisly economics, Rahul Dev Rajampeta is still in school. After earning his undergraduate mechanical engineering degree in India, Rajampeta is taking graduate courses at Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

He wanted to work through an internship, but the responses were the same: closed, full. Labeling himself an optimist, Rajampeta "believes the turn around will happen." And he thinks that just might coincide with his graduation date in the summer of 2010. In the meantime, he describes the current downturn in the auto industry as being "pretty low."

Simon Nussbaum has a job. The mechanical engineer works for GGB Bearing Technology in New Jersey, but he's heard the stories: customers delaying new programs, customers canceling programs. "Every single customer is going through difficulties," said Nussbaum. "It's a little scary, but on the positive side, new technologies are going to have much more of a role going forward."

Kirk Anderson, 27, thinks the auto industry is likely to stay as is for at least another year. Anderson is working in Germany for Brandenburg GmbH, and that's been the case for about a year. For some time, Anderson felt he and fellow optical engineers were immune to the job axe. "It's a very specialized field. But when I saw optical engineers getting laid off in October 2008, I knew it was really bad," he said.

Anderson has no regrets about his chosen career path. And he says age might work in his favor. "I can bounce back," he says pausing, "if anything were to happen." He knows a few former optical engineers who worked in the automotive industry are now looking for work above the roadway. "They're looking at street lighting" opportunities, Anderson said.

For Chuck Ossenkop, President of Northwest Auto Parts in Anchorage, Alaska, business just keeps recycling. Ossenkop's vehicle recycle company saw an increase of 20 percent last year, and work is on track for an 8 percent increase this year. While old vehicles make new business for Ossenkop's company, the makers of new vehicles need a new game plan. "The whole industry has got to get re-energized and re-vitalized," he said. "The status quo has got to be left behind."

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