As Automotive Hiring Heats Up, Communications Role is Rising

By Terry Costlow

Cars and trucks are undergoing a dramatic change, they’re learning how to stop and turn by themselves as they stride towards autonomy. Connectivity and communication are also becoming critical elements in autos ” both vehicles and the technical workers who design them are increasingly being asked to communicate more often.

Cellular links are providing connectivity, which is playing an enhanced role in infotainment before eventually being linked to safety systems in fully autonomous vehicles. This ability to communicate is also playing a growing role in the hiring of the engineers and programmers who create the electronic systems that increasingly differentiate makes and models. The enhanced focus on communication skills comes as the search for technical talent heats up.

“For certain, job openings continue to increase,” said Pam Hoye, talent acquisition manager at ZF TRW. “The demographic we are recruiting includes young technical talent, so we continue to expand the presence of recruiting through online tools and social media channels. As for the kinds of jobs we are recruiting as a multi-national technical company, the biggest needs remain in the electrical and software engineering fields.”

A heightened demand for talent was evident in April, when auto industry vendors gathered in Detroit for the Society of Automotive Engineers’ WCX17 conference. The large Careers Central section was filled with teams searching for talent.

“There were 205 job postings this year, there were only about 150 in 2016,” said Martha Tress, recruitment sales manager at SAE International. “We’re definitely seeing a trend to hybrid jobs, those that are a little bit mechanical and a little bit electrical. That skill set is hard to find.”

A growing number of those jobs are in software. Most cars have 100 million lines of code or more, and that’s expected to soar as infotainment options rise, mileage and emissions requirements tighten and more safety systems are added to pave the way for autonomous driving. Programmers who have some knowledge of this complex electromechanical environment are in an enviable spot.


“Software engineers are very hard to come by, it’s definitely a candidates’ market,” said a spokesperson at Hitachi’s WCX17 Careers Central booth. “If we don’t move quickly on candidates, they will have other offers.”

Hitachi is looking for about 20 technical people, up a bit from a year ago. Competition for programmers does not just come from other companies within the automotive supply chain. Software is the driving force in most fields, so nearly every industry is a potential competitor for talent.

“The toughest in the automotive industry is typically software engineers, as their skills are in demand across all industries and verticals,” Hoye said. “It is an electronic and computer driven world ” so software and electrical engineers are at a high premium.”

While automakers are searching for employees who understand technology, they’re always on the lookout for people who bring more to the workplace. Soft skills, like communications, are becoming more important as complex system architectures bring more players into the design process. When a camera system feeds images to a centralized controller that interacts with steering and/or braking systems, it’s important that information is relayed clearly and completely.

“The demand is increasing for technicians that can span multiple disciplines ” there is still a high demand for those who can write code and develop algorithms ” but increasingly these technicians and engineers are asked to have communication and customer interface skills, and be able to take a broader look across the development of a program for our customers,” Hoye said.

The global nature of the automotive industry is another communication-related factor that impacts hiring. Automotive programs are regularly designed by specialized global teams. It’s becoming commonplace for a number of these highly focused teams to work together on complex designs that include many systems. International teams need to communicate well to ensure that these systems work flawlessly.


“Companies are seeking engineers with very specific engineering, program/process management and team skills,” said Ann Baker-Zainea, senior staffing manager at Continental. “In addition, cultural sensitivity is key, as most are working with global engineering teams from various disciplines in a virtual environment.”

These so-called soft skills extend beyond technical work. Programmers must often communicate with their peers at suppliers and customers. They are often called upon to make presentations to executives who hold the purse strings.

“Embedded software and algorithm engineers are in high demand,” Baker-Zainea said. “They are the ambassadors for their products with internal and external customers.”

While there’s a strong need for engineers and programmers who convey information to those on related design teams and in corporate offices, technical knowledge is clearly a central requirement. Automakers are in need of specialists who can dive deeply into the minutia that differentiate their systems’ features and functions from those of their rivals. International competition is intense, so a minor edge that makes a system easier to use or more efficient can help a company gain market share. Many managers are searching for employees who have a depth of knowledge in a given area.

“The roles are getting much more specifically based on the technical requirements for emerging automotive technologies, such as automated driving and hybrid electrical vehicles,” Baker-Zainea said.

The rapid evolution of vehicles will even force automakers to hire technologists who are better at analyzing Big Data than at creating circuits and software. As cars become nodes on the Internet of Things (IoT), automakers will have to find employees whose skill sets have little or nothing to do with cars. Connected vehicles are going to send a plethora of information back to automotive OEMs ” diagnostic data and information from autonomous vehicles will often exceed a terabyte in just a few hours.

Connectivity lets automakers collect all sorts of data from vehicles. Diagnostic data can help them understand component lifetimes and let them tell owners that vehicles need maintenance. They can also see which features and functions are being used and which seem too complex or obscure. Analyzing all this information will require highly technical specialists who play no role in designing cars, but still understand them.

“Big data analysis will be very important,” said Nigel Upton of Hewlett-Packard Co. “You need to start with people who know something about data.”

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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