With lots of mixed reports on the economy and the job market, it’s been interesting to see the resurgence of demand for jobs in the automotive industry. Multiple studies are showing strong areas of growth and demand for jobs related to the auto industry; one of which is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 17 percent growth rate for automotive technicians through 2020. From 2010 to 2020 the overall job growth in this area alone is projected at over 120,000 jobs.
In fact, there are good reasons to believe that a career in manufacturing for an automaker or supplier will continue to provide opportunities (though, not near the extent they did in the Big 3’s glory days), while complimentary careers in automotive sales and maintenance will also continue to thrive. Why? Because automotive sales have continued to grow. More sales means more manufacturing, more salespeople and more cars to repair. As sales grow, everyone in the industry benefits.
The chart above shows automotive and light truck sales in millions of units, and the upturn since the end of 2007 has been dramatic. So if you’re thinking of a career in the automotive industry, there are some very tangible reasons to consider it.
Careers in the Auto Industry
One of the areas you can dive into is car and auto parts manufacturing, the second leading form of manufacturing next to beverages. “As the yearly volume has rebounded to up to 16 million sales, OEMs will continue to add production capacity to meet demand,” said Fritz Wilke, a marketing manager from Ford Asia Pacific. OEMs have been working on 95 percent capacity, running all three shifts and opening up new facilities in order to keep up with demand. In December 2013, 8,600 auto manufacturing jobs were advertised online in the United States, based on a survey made by Wanted Analytics. That’s a 24 percent year-over-year increase. However, it takes longer than three months to fill 40 percent of these jobs. The demand is high but it is not met with enough manpower.
Wilke recommends Tesla Motors as a great opportunity to break into the auto industry. Tesla owns the old Toyota/GM plant in Los Angeles that used to build Corolla and Nova. As they add more capacity and a much higher time commitment to keep up with demand, it means more money and take-home pay for the workers.
The auto manufacturing industry in the United States includes around 200 companies. And as more companies keep expanding, look for manufacturing jobs to be in high demand in the coming years. As seen from the chart below, manufacturing leads the rest of the auto industry in terms of wage and hours worked, with an annual average salary of around $65,000.
Auto Service Technicians and Mechanics
With more vehicles making their way to consumers, more car owners will need repair and maintenance. This is where the need for auto service technicians and mechanics comes in. Besides inspecting and maintaining cars and light trucks, they can also take care of basic vehicle maintenance, such as changing tires, oil changes, and diagnosing and repairing car problems.
When in the past, car owners could tinker with their engines and fix the problem, nowadays it can be more complicated because of the electronic systems that vehicles now possess. Although cars aren’t flying yet, plenty of major improvements have already saturated the market. Now we have not only gasoline-powered vehicles, but also those that use electricity and fuels like ethanol. Working on cars has become more complex so that when car problems arise, more and more people will surely need service technicians and mechanics to work on their cars.
Michael Smith, co-owner of ASAP Service Center in Michigan, believes that the future in the auto industry is going to get better. “With technology changing as fast as it is the demand for highly trained technicians is going [up]. You will no longer be able to repair your vehicle at home because of all the computer controls.”
To be competitive in this market, it is important for high school graduates to continue their education. To get these jobs people will need to attend a vocational training program in automotive service technology, and make sure to get courses on physics, computers, and electronics. Moreover, getting certified by the Acquiring National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence can improve a job seekers chances of being seen as the best candidate for the job.
“Be knowledgeable in past and present technology, have strong computer skills, and the willingness to adapt to the never-ending changes in vehicle technology,” Smith answered on how to be successful in this career. “Enjoy working with the consumer and have a lot of patience dealing with the public.” Having worked in the auto repair industry for over 27 years, Smith does know what it takes to perform exceptionally well in this trade.
Annual salary for automotive service technicians and mechanics are in the range between $20,000 up to $60,000, depending on education, location and experience. And as you get to know more clients and suppliers, you have the opportunity to one day manage your own auto body repair. Tom Farhat, an entrepreneur, used his four years of car repair experience to start his own business. For 26 years now, he has been operating his own body shop and knows everything about the repair business from top to bottom. “I do it all. From taping the cars, changing body panels, patching rusty areas, Bondo-ing dents, refabricating panels to painting the cars,” Farhat said.
“There is gratification in seeing an old beat-up clunker emerge into a shiny, beautiful car. I got into it because I loved making junk beautiful. Kinda artistic in a way,” he explains his reason why he stayed in this business. “I think there would always be a need for body shops as long as there are people driving and salt on the roads.”
Besides the production and maintenance of vehicles, another important aspect in the auto industry is sales. As more vehicles are getting produced by General Motors, Ford, etc., they rely on auto dealerships to get these cars into the market. Now if you’re good at math (to help customers get the best payment plan for their budget), have people skills, and are persistent, you will find yourself successful in this job.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average wage per hour for auto dealers is at $19.97 as of December 2013, which equates to more than a $40,000 annual salary. With an increase of 17% for retail sales workers in the next decade, you will surely find a lot of job opportunities especially in highly populated areas.
To perform well in this job, David Sapper of Auto Mart Las Vegas, an auto industry professional for 15 years advises, “Responsibilities are fairly reasonable. Promptness, attention to detail, appearance, follow-up skills, and personality really make or break people getting into this field.” He added, “The future of the car business is the internet. I see all aspects of the car business needed to be very internet savvy to survive.”
And although for some car salesmen, working at a dealership involves selling malfunctioning vehicles to unsuspecting customers, they won’t last in this field. “My advice would be to hold on to your moral compass. Taking the path of least resistance is tempting and many go that way,” he said. “The people that stay true to their values, show integrity and honesty get pushed to the top at a breakneck pace.”
Fritz Wilke also agrees that now is a great time to look for jobs in Marketing and Sales. “As car sales rebound, the manufacturers are adding headcount in the key regions (Great Lakes, South East, and West). The Northeast seems to be lagging a bit, but as volumes increase, it is likely that the opportunities will grow there as well.”
Wilke also recommends finding great opportunities in unusual parts of the country and use that experience to leverage yourself to where you want to eventually be. “Everybody wants to work in Southern California, but few are able to start there. Cali is so important to the manufacturers that they don’t tend to take chances on new people there. Prove yourself in Kansas or Texas or Atlanta or Seattle or Minneapolis and then they’ll give you a shot in Cali.”
He also added that being a sales representative may be difficult because you have to spend a lot of long hours at work and on the road, but it is worth it because of the invaluable experience you can learn on the front lines.