Persistent high unemployment is the hallmark of the Great Recession, but don't tell that to Detroit carmakers, who are gearing up for a serious hiring binge. The upshot is that we're on the urge of a new Golden Age for engineers, and many of them are going to find their way to Motown.
Okay, so you'll be working for an industry that's been around for more than 100 years. But the good news is that when the (former) Big Three start ramping up headcounts at the very core of what they do -- design and build cars -- you know the auto recovery is in full swing:
- This is American engineering -- not Japanese or German. Just as every culture has its own culinary vibe, every country creates engineers in its own special way. The Germans are highly technical and precise, The Japanese are competent and fastidious, determined to rid machines of flaws. Americans are... pragmatic. They study problems and develop solutions on a daily basis, rather than trying to be (always) perfect. In the past, this has meant American cars have been cool but not always pristine. But over the past decade or two, the USA has worked German and Japanese principles into the picture. Our cars are much better -- and if you engineer them, you still get to sleep at night.
- The federal government is backstopping your job. Being a Motown engineer isn't necessarily a job for life. But if you go to work for any of the Big Three or their suppliers, you can be confident that an industry once bailed out (really twice if count the first Chrysler rescue in the late 1970s) could be bailed out again if the market collapses anew.
- Detroit can't build cars fast enough. According to Automotive News, General Motors (GM), Ford (F), and Chrysler are going to hire 36,000 new factory workers by 2015: "The carmakers are producing near the limits of what the current UAW work force of 102,000 can do on maximum overtime.... They will have to hire to increase production once all laid-off [United Auto Workers union] members nationally are back to work by September...." Increased production means increased competition, which means an elevated need to develop and build new models, or refresh old ones. This doesn't happen without engineers.
- The bean-counters are in retreat. The past two decades in Detroit have told a story of finance people running the show. That led to bailouts and bankruptcy. It's now clear that in order to be globally successful, automakers require cutting-edge vehicles that are both reliable and profitable. This focus on great product will give engineers a chance to put themselves back in the driver's seat. Particularly since electric cars and more fuel-efficient technology aren't going to happen without engineering leadership.
- Money. In the 1950s, it was clear that if you didn't want a professional degree, engineering was the way to go. Engineers then earned some of the highest salaries of graduates with bachelors degrees alone. They still do. Today, physicians, attorneys, and MBAs take on massive loan debt and in many cases (especially for lawyers) struggle when they hit the job market. The old engineer path to prosperity is reasserting itself, in the face of the absurd cost of post-graduate education. Best of all, many affordable colleges offer fine mechanical and electrical engineering programs, so you don't need an elite diploma to eventually earn six figures.