Auto OEMs face fresh talent crisis at home but not in Mexico
By Graeme Stewart
Japan, the USA and Canada are facing a recruitment crisis in their automotive industries as young talent looks elsewhere for a lucrative and fulfilling career. However, that is not the case in Mexico where the automotive sector is seen as an “aspirational” career move and hundreds of college graduates are queuing up for positions within the industry. That was said at the Xlll International Conference of the Mexican Automotive Industry in Mexico City recently where one industry expert voiced concerns that the United States car manufacturers could turn their gaze south and “hoover up” young Mexican talent for their own use. Julie Fream, President of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association USA, told MexicoNow that the auto industry in the US was suffering from an image failure and that many young people did not realize the high technology involved and still thought of the industry as an assembly line production from the Henry Ford era of circa 1910. Her assessment was backed up by Flavio Volpe, President of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association Canada, who said young people were too busy playing with their X Boxes to consider a career in the auto industry, and Ted Kawashima, President of Japan Auto Parts Industries Association – Japan in the USA, who added: “They just don’t know us. The auto industry has become a part of history to them. We need to convince the parents to recommend the auto industry to their sons and daughters.” They were speaking on the present and future of the auto parts industry and Ms. Fream told MexicoNow: “The auto industry in the US definitely has an image problem and it is up to us to convince young talent to consider the industry as a career option. We have to sell our industry and change our industry to attract young talent.” “If we don’t change and adopt a more proactive stance, emphasizing the modern, hi-tech industry that it is, we could struggle to attract new talent. And that would be a very serious problem. We have to promote the industry as the high-tech business it is in order to attract new, young talent, which has an image of a Henry Ford assembly line from 1910. We have to demonstrate how high-tech we are.” “However, Mexico does not have the same problem as the auto industry here is seen as an aspirational career and many college graduates are lining up to get into the industry.” Mr. Kawashima said: “The young people in Japan are just not interested in the auto industry. I have worked in the industry for many, many years and I hoped that one day my son would follow in my footsteps. But he showed no interest at all and is now a computer analyst. “It is something we have to address urgently as the auto industry relies on fresh talent to keep it moving forward.” Joaquin Loose, Vice President and Executive Director Hitachi Automotive Systems Group Mexico, told MexicoNow: “I think the big difference in Mexico is that the automotive industry has been one of the most rapid performance industries in our country. We don’t have silicone valleys, software or new technologies like Apple or Google and when you look at industry in Mexico it is very basic industry – agricultural, primary industries, mining – and the automotive industry is what reflects technology for young Mexican people.” “Also, the growth we’ve had in the auto industry in the past few years has been tremendous so when they leave university they are very excited about joining the auto sector. And I think it comes from the fact that we are still an underdeveloped country and 50 per cent of our population is still very poor with 10 per cent living in extreme poverty, which means hunger, so the automotive industry with its hi-tech aspect is seen as a giant leap of progress. That’s what I believe the difference is between Canada, Japan and the United States and Mexico.” “I work for a Japanese company and I can see that in Japan the vehicle itself is not of such primary interest to the public as it once was and young people, who enjoy top class transportation in their cities, want to spend their money on other things, like games or other technological gadgets. But in North America, Mexico included, the car is still the primary tool for living, especially for the young.” “I would be worried that car manufacturers in the United States, suffering from a lack of interest in the auto industry from young people, may turn their attention to Mexico and start hovering up young Mexican talent. To me, that would be the sensible thing to do if I was in their shoes.” “That could be the start of a new Mexican invasion of the United States but this time for well-paid and responsible jobs. There is no doubt that many young Mexicans wanting a career in the auto industry would grab the chance to work in the higher-paid US motor industry and, to my mind, no doubt that the US car manufacturers would take them on in a minute to solve their need for fresh talent.” “But I think that there will be plenty of others to take their place, emerging newly-graduated from university and keen to take their place in Mexico’s automotive industry.” Mexican auto part factories were likely to post record output in 2015, growing, in value terms, by 5 per cent from the $82 billion produced last year.
The car industry is a major export earner for Mexico, and accounts for a large part of its manufacturing base. The expected growth is due to three new plants from Japanese companies Nissan, Honda and Mazda and the underlying strength of the U.S. car market. Plus the new Toyota plant announced in April, not to mention the multi-billion investments by the US Big-3 and the German luxury vehicle makers. In 2014, exports to the United States accounted for nearly 70 per cent of Mexican auto parts output, equivalent to about US$56 billion.