Automakers are increasingly investing in major technology upgrades, fueling their advances in hybridization, electric mobility, and digitalization. All of these changes have driven a shift in the makeup of the auto workforce. To design and develop these innovations, automakers need software engineers.
By harnessing what they have to offer and matching it with the factors that motivate employees, auto manufacturers can attract the talent they need.
The problem? So does everyone else.
How do OEMs successfully compete for this in-demand talent against multinational technology companies, deep-pocket e-commerce brands, and all the other manufacturers investing in smart technology?
Driving a Desire for Auto Work
The answer could lie in a broad range of factors, including a creative environment, growth opportunities, and a diversity of projects.
“As automakers become more engaged in the high-tech elements of design and engineering, I’ve seen a commensurate shift in the workplace environment,” notes Aerotek Director Lucas Hiler. “Where before the office space was structured into a series of individual cubicles, now it looks more like a start-up, with open areas and sit/stand desks.
“The culture is also becoming more like that of Silicon Valley,” he continues, “with flexible hours and no dress code, as well as free meals and valet parking at some places.”
This may stem from the fact that OEMs are likely competing with start-ups for the same talent.
“Start-ups have a powerful incentive to retain engineers through the entire span of product development,” Hiler says. “Plus, they know they are a riskier employer than a traditional company, so they might pay an additional 10-15% premium.”
Although many traditional employers have little appetite for allowing comprehensive remote work opportunities, software engineers seem to be more mobile than other professionals. With high-tech hot spots including Boston and Philadelphia, not all roads lead to Silicon Valley.
Employers in need of this talent may have to throw out the rulebook to come up with winning strategies. Can you raise your salary offer? Provide relocation benefits? Offer a non-traditional work schedule? At the same time, candidates want to know about company culture. Why should they choose your position instead of another offer? Fundamentally, employees want a challenging and rewarding job with a great employer, and they want to feel valued.
Perhaps more so than other professions, engineers seek out new information and new skills, and they want their employer involved. A recent Allegis Group Cultivating Skills survey of human resources decision-makers found that employers are responding and now view employee skills development as their responsibility:
- 93% believe the employer is responsible for enabling their workforce to acquire new skills;
- 90% are exploring new ways to develop critical skills within their workforce;
- 86% anticipate that their budget for training, learning and development will increase over the next two years.
By providing training, employers create value in several ways — they can prioritize the exact skills they need and set a quick pace for training, demonstrate their appreciation for current employees, and help fulfill the company’s potential for growth.
Sometimes skills development comes through a mentorship/training arrangement. Aerotek works with a tier one auto supplier that has developed a program to take junior-level workers and pair them with more experienced engineers for a training period of six months to a year. The goal of the program is to operationalize knowledge transfer and create a skilled team of workers who have trained in exactly the processes and proficiencies the company wants.
Contingent Solutions for Short-Term Needs
Some software engineers prefer the flexibility and stimulation of contract work.
“A lot of engineers are increasingly seeking work/life balance,” Hiler says. “When they take on an assignment, they want it to be challenging and interesting. And when it’s over, they may want to take a break to spend time with their family or pursue other interests. Then they have the freedom to switch it up and take a new job that helps them learn new skills or offers something completely different. Some contractors are actually motivated by a desire to see the world. They want to move to different places and experience different environments.”
Many engineers want to develop new work experience by taking on new and challenging contracts. Because of this, the option to take on a short contract in a new company can be attractive — especially knowing they’ll have new opportunities in a relatively short time. At the same time, the typical hourly rate for contract work is much higher than a salaried position. Some recruiting agencies include benefits, making contract work even more viable.
If engineers feel that their careers have hit a plateau or aren’t as stimulating as they prefer, the chance to work in an increasingly high-tech industry could provide the challenge they’re looking for.
Competing for software engineers is one of the biggest workforce challenges today. But by harnessing what they have to offer and matching it with the factors that motivate employees, auto manufacturers can attract the talent they need.
Casey Sivier is a strategic account executive for Aerotek.