All Things Political

Automotive Industry Job Outlook

Continued productivity improvements and foreign outsourcing of parts production will cause employment to decline over the next decade.

Overall wage and salary employment in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry is expected to decline by 16 percent over the 2008-18 period, compared with 11 percent growth for all industries combined. Although more automobiles and light trucks will be manufactured in the U.S. over this period, productivity improvements will enable manufacturers to produce these vehicles and parts with fewer workers.

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The growing intensity of international and domestic competition has increased cost pressures on manufacturers. In response, they have sought to improve productivity and quality with high-technology production techniques, including computer-assisted design, production, and testing. In addition to automation, both domestic and foreign-based manufacturers will reduce costs by shifting some parts and vehicle production to lower wage countries.

Expanding factory automation, robotics, efficiency gains, and the need to cut costs will cause nearly all production occupations to decline, but some occupations will decline more than others. Increasing automation will negatively affect employment of basic machine operator occupations more so than it will affect the skilled workers that operate and program robots. Assemblers who only perform one or two tasks will be replaced by team assemblers who are interchangeable on a team and can perform multiple functions. Greater automation will boost demand for maintenance workers who service and repair the robots and automated systems essential to a factory.

Employment of management, computer, office, and administrative support occupations will also decline as the number of production workers, whom these workers manage, supervise, and support, declines.

Due to the increasingly automated and sophisticated nature of motor vehicle manufacturing and assembly, employers are seeking a better educated workforce. Applicants for assembly jobs will likely face competition, but opportunities will be best for those with a 2-year degree in a technical area. Applicants for maintenance jobs should also face competition. As automakers shift to multi-skilled maintenance personnel, opportunities will be best for those with skills across a range of areas, such as hydraulics, electronics, and welding. Employers use screening tests for new applicants and state that both strong math and communication skills are necessary to pass these tests.

Employment in the automobile manufacturing industry follows economic cycles, therefore it can be volatile. It is common for workers to get laid off as production slows, then possibly rehired when production picks up again. Job openings are expected due to the large number of auto workers who will retire in the coming decade. Some of the foreign plants built in the 1980s will see high turnover as a large proportion of their workers retire. Overall, job applicants will face keen competition, but highly skilled workers will have the best employment prospects.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition

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