04 June 2010

Auto Industry may see Labor Shortage

USA Today

DETROIT — It seems counterintuitive, but the auto industry could face a labor shortage within the next few years, says the head of the Center for Automotive Research.

While 228,000 auto jobs have been shed in the past two years, the industry is poised to add about 15,000 this year and could need up to 100,000 new workers a year from 2011 through 2013 as the recession recovery continues, says David Cole, chairman of the non-profit organization that looks at trends related to the auto industry and society.

The new jobs won't necessarily be filled by those displaced workers. Automakers need workers with more and different skills than in the past on the factory floor, Cole says. Among priorities: computer skills and the ability to work with less supervision than their predecessors. That likely means education beyond high school.

"The one thing that is very clear is that production workers need a two-year community college degree or the equivalent," he says. "The technology is quite sophisticated and changing rapidly."

He predicts a shortage as early as next year.

Experts have predicted for about five years that a labor shortage eventually would come for the auto industry simply due to the aging population. Advanced Technology Services and ACNielsen predicted in 2005 that changing demographics alone could leave the industry short of skilled autoworkers by the middle of this decade.

Cole says that problem exists, too, and it may arrive sooner than expected, since buyout offers from automakers in recent years accelerated retirement by many older workers. Meanwhile, an industry that shrank for more than a decade has not been adding great numbers of younger workers.

At least for now, thanks to the economy, there are plenty of applicants for any new jobs.

When Kia began hiring for more than 1,000 jobs at its just-opened plant in West Point, Ga., it got more than 44,000 applications.

Chrysler announced last month it would add 1,100 jobs this summer for a second shift at the Detroit plant starting to build its new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. But it's not taking applications because it has enough already to fill the spots.

Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director for Moody's Economy.com, says, however, that lots of applications don't mean a surplus of applicants with skills now needed for state-of-the-art auto plants.

"It's not contradictory at all," she says. "(Automakers) are having a hard time filling all those positions. That really is the scenario."

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