DETROIT — The auto industry is about to go on a hiring spree as car makers and parts suppliers race to find engineers, technicians and factory workers to build the next generation of vehicles.
The new employees will be part of a larger, busier workforce. From coast to coast, the industry is in top gear. Factories are operating at about 95 per cent of capacity, and many are already running three shifts. As a result, some auto and parts companies are doing something they’ve been reluctant to consider since the recession: Adding floor space and spending millions of dollars on new equipment.
“So it really is brick-and-mortar time.”
The hiring plans are widespread. Chrysler Group LLC, Honda Motor Co., General Motors Co., Mercedes-Benz and Ford Motor Co. plan to add more than 13,000 people this year.
Large parts companies such as Lear, BorgWarner Inc. and TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. are hiring at factories and research centres. Smaller suppliers are adding jobs as well.
The auto business has helped keep the economy afloat while Americans wait for the rest of the business world to start hiring. Since 2009, 1 in every 4 manufacturing jobs added in the U.S. came in the auto industry, says Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, a manufacturing trade group. The auto industry is just under 7 per cent of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Car companies and parts makers created 167,500 jobs from the end of the recession in June 2009 through May. At the same time, U.S. auto sales rose from a low point of 10.4 million in 2009 to an annual rate of more than 15 million so far this year.
Chrysler’s comeback gave Jeff Caldwell the confidence to leave a human resources consulting firm. Caldwell joined the company in February as an assembly line supervisor at a Jeep Grand Cherokee factory in Detroit. He supervises 100 workers who build the SUV’s chassis.
“I knew Chrysler was moving in the right direction,” says Caldwell, 29, who was born in Detroit and always had an interest in cars. “They kind of reinvented themselves, and I really wanted to get in while I could.”
Among the hiring planned for this year:
- Chrysler will add more than 3,500 workers this year at factories in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan to make transmissions and to build Jeeps and Ram pickups.
- Ford expects to hire 2,200 salaried workers in information technology, product development and manufacturing. Plus the company is hiring 1,400 factory workers and recalling another 2,000 laid-off employees, in Michigan and Missouri.
- GM is hiring 4,000 engineers and computer professionals at four technical centres in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Texas to develop software and other innovations.
- Honda is adding at least 500 jobs this year at factories in Ohio, Indiana and Alabama as it moves more production to North America.
- At TRW Automotive, recruiters are looking for 50 engineers in the Detroit area to work on new safety features such as a system that warns drivers when large animals are in their path.
Smaller companies also are joining in. Automotive business at Waukesha Metal Products in Sussex, Wis., is so strong that the company is near its capacity to make metal parts for axles, drive shafts and interiors. It’s adding $1 million worth of equipment near Milwaukee and building a plant in Mexico to be closer to companies it supplies.
Most industry analysts predict that U.S. auto sales will rise gradually during the next five years. Estimates for this year range from 15 million to 15.5 million, compared with 14.5 million a year ago. LMC Automotive, a Troy, Mich., forecasting firm, predicts that sales will gradually increase to 17 million in 2017. That level would be almost equal to the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Analysts say sales will climb as more people reach driving age. Also, many consumers and businesses still have cars and trucks they bought last decade, if not earlier. The average vehicle on U.S. roads is now a record 11.2 years.