Engineers ready to work

  • 13-Apr-2010 01:48 EDT
SAE career fair 2010.JPG
SAE Career Fair job seekers talk to representatives of Volkswagen and Global Technology Associates, a professional staffing company.

Many experienced engineers have been on a relentless job search for months. Could 2010 be a watershed year for hiring engineers?

Ramesh Iyer, a mechanical engineer, has been out of work for almost a year. But he's feeling good about his job search. "I think the market is picking up," Iyer said during a brief break from the hubbub of the Career Fair on Tuesday morning at the SAE 2010 World Congress in Detroit. "I'm starting to get calls. I'm seeing improvement."

Michael Fonk is also out of work. He's been sending resumes to companies, and he just completed three months' training through a federal program. "You can't stop trying," said the mechanical engineer who lost his job when the Warren, MI, supplier company he worked for closed shop nine months ago.

Michigan—the state long regarded as world's automotive hub—has shed jobs faster than a shaggy dog loses its winter coat. Job losses have collared workers up and down the automotive supply chain as the number of job applicants continues to outstrip job openings.

"We estimate that the job market for engineers will be very competitive in 2010 and 2011," said Konrad Lepecki, Economic Analyst for the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth in the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

While the bureau does not produce specific engineering job forecasts for the automotive industry, Lepecki points out that many engineers in Michigan tie into the automotive sector. "The prospects for engineers appear to be more positive in the long-term forecasts," Lepecki noted about the jobs outlook that covers a 10-year span (2006-2016).

When it comes to tracking the job status of engineers, the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA) gets regular input from its more than 300 member companies representing a combined $300 billion in global automotive sales.

At a recent OESA human resources council meeting, there was plenty of talk about suppliers hiring technical specialists. "But it's very selective and targeted," noted Dave Andrea, Senior Vice President of Industry Analysis and Economics for OESA with headquarters in Troy, MI.

Some of the heaviest job losses for engineers happened in the past two years, but there are signs of a jobs recovery.

"Suppliers are backfilling jobs based on the sheer number of mechanical and other engineering specialty positions that were eliminated in 2008 and 2009," said Andrea.

Engineering jobs that weren't whacked in 2008 and 2009 were hit by pay cuts, but salary bites are healing. "Suppliers are offering hiring bonuses for the right talent to get around some of the current salary compression. And suppliers are talking about reinstating some of the salary and benefit cuts because they know they need to retain and engage their current workforce as well as attract new talent to the industry," said Andrea.

The expectation is that salaries for engineers will rise. "But just like the hiring, it will be very slow," Andrea said.

Engineers are also needed in other parts of the world.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., a subsidiary of Suzuki Motor Corp. of Japan, is expanding its R&D capability in India, "so we need quite a few experienced engineers," said Sanjiv Sinha, a Senior Human Resources Manager. The company is again among the firms meeting engineering candidates at the SAE career fair. "Last year we found 20 candidates from this [career fair], and we hired eight," Sinha said.

Sachin Sadashiv Narke, Divisional Manager for Human Resources at the Engineering Research Centre at Tata Motors Ltd. in India, said senior-level engineers are being targeted for jobs. "We're looking for people who are looking to relocate to India," Narke said from his firm's booth at the SAE Career Fair. The jobs may mean working on the Nano car, trucks, or buses—vehicles being readied for the European market.

A San Diego-based firm is looking to hire powertrain engineers. According to Laurence Fromm, Vice President of Business & Strategy Development at Achates Power, the five-year-old company is developing a new internal-combustion engine. "We have about 50 people now. Almost all are engineers, and we're looking to fill three more engineering positions," said Fromm, adding, "This is a great opportunity for us to find really qualified candidates. Everybody comes to the SAE World Congress."

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