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COVID Pains, Gains, and Hiring Domain

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Oct. 5, 2020—MICHauto, an automotive and mobility cluster association, and the Center for Automotive Research recently hosted a webinar where industry professionals from Ford, Adient, and ADAC Automotive described how their companies overcame unique challenges presented by the pandemic—in no small part through the use of technology. 

Another hot topic of discussion during the webinar was the decreasing number of technicians in the industry and the consequences COVID-19 has had on the “automotive talent pipeline.” 

The hurdles outlined by these individuals are not only present in the automotive industry, but across the world as many companies and organizations are trying to find their footing in the “new normal.” 


Growing Pains

Many organizations are finding ways to produce their products and offer the same high quality services, but Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at ADAC Auto, Peter Hungerford, says onboarding new employees is one of the more difficult obstacles.  

“New people come into the organization and we want to communicate our values and our culture, but it’s difficult to do those things virtually,” Hungerford admitted. 

Renee McLeod says Adient, a leading manufacturer of automotive seating, is also feeling the effects of the virus when it comes to bringing on new staff. 

McLeod, vice president and chief human resources officer at Adient, says finding new talent and drumming up interest in the industry has been significantly more difficult due to the cancellation of events such as college fairs. 

“I’m proud of what we’ve done with remote work, but there is something about human interaction that is necessary to become part of something,” McLeod says. 


Unexpected Gains

For an industry that is widely reliant on collaboration, Hungerford says the adjustment to online communication has been beneficial. Before the pandemic, Hungerford says he would spend multiple hours a week traveling from one meeting to the next. 

“Some travel is not ‘value added,’” he says. “We have gotten much more comfortable doing conversations virtually and it is much more efficient.”

Where some organizations are struggling to blend the in-person and online culture of their companies, McLeod says Adient has benefitted from the virtual-only mandates. 

“Distancing gives us the opportunity to draw talent from places outside our region,” she says. “It’s opening opportunities as it creates challenges.” 


The Hiring Domain

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average growth rate for all occupations over a 10-year period is four percent, meanwhile in the automotive industry, the number of technicians is projected to fall four percent. If the trend continues, the Bureau predicts a decrease of 27,800 technicians by 2029. 

Furthermore, the Collision Repair Education Foundation’s 2019 survey found that the average age of technicians continues to increase, and is currently over 41 years old. 

Human Resources Director at Ford Motor Company, Eric James, said there was a fear of missing out on new talent due to the coronavirus. 

“If we cancel our programs this year, we are going to lose a whole cycle of talent,” he says. But luckily, Ford, along with many other companies, was able to switch to a virtual platform for incoming interns. 

“We figured out how to get them laptops and get them the information they needed to onboard,” James says. 

When approaching this unique situation, James says his organization, like many others, was fearful. “We may fail, but let’s fail fast and move on,” he quips.

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