Microchips aren't the only shortage roiling the auto industry right now: Workers are also in short supply, from the tiniest Tier 3 supplier to the shop floor of the biggest assembly plants to the showrooms and service bays of dealerships nationwide.
And just as it has with microchips, the industry as a whole finds itself competing for an unexpectedly scarce resource with other businesses eager to fill holes in their own value chains. To improve their odds in the face of stiff competition, auto industry employers will need to be more creative and open-minded.
As veteran Automotive News journalist Lindsay Chappell detailed, the number of motor vehicle employees grew over the summer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, but it still remains far below where the industry stood at the start of the pandemic.
Drilling down on the automotive supply chain, U.S. auto plants and suppliers have 73,400 fewer workers on the job than they did when the pandemic arrived in March 2020. That's almost one in five of the 378,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs lost over that period.
While America faces a "Great Resignation" of dissatisfied workers, the auto industry can open welcoming new doors to potential employees as it reconsiders a range of expectations.
Dealers especially often boast that their employees are their greatest assets, but they are often hidebound when it comes to finding and cultivating those assets in meaningful ways. For example, running criminal background and credit checks on prospective employees may be a wise precaution in some cases. But automatically eliminating imperfect candidates from further consideration — without additional inquiry into the circumstances of those blemishes on their records — can leave a potential quality employee on the table. It's probably not wise to put a convicted embezzler in the finance and insurance office, but there's no reason that someone caught on a minor drug offense might not make a good technician.
Many companies have used the pandemic to rethink an array of practices: their hours of operation, their flexibility about remote work and their compensation packages, especially as growing numbers of baby boomers retire. Suppliers, automakers and dealers will have to do the same to find and keep the workers this vital industry desperately needs.
This editorial originally ran in Automotive News, a sister publication to Plastics News. Chappell's stories on worker shortages at automotive suppliers are on pages 17-18 of the Oct. 18 issue and online.