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Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research tells attendees of the AACC Workforce Development Insitute to prepare for more changes in the auto industry that will affect job training programs.
Photo: Ellie Ashford
SAN DIEGO—Community colleges need to retool their automotive programs to adapt to a changing industry that needs fewer workers with more advanced skills, according to an auto industry researcher.
The U.S. auto industry is not only back, but productivity is continuing to increase and both General Motors and Ford are again profitable, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the Labor and Industry Group at the Center for Automotive Research, who spoke at the American Association of Community Colleges' annual Workforce Development Institute.
While the news is promising, it's not great. Production levels, sales and employment rates have not returned to pre-recession levels. The number of jobs in auto production were down 54 percent at the height of the recession and have only come back 26 percent, Dziczek said.
The jobs that have come back are more technology-driven than before, which means workers will need new skill sets, said Dziczek, who noted that more than 80 percent of vehicles produced by Toyota will be hybrids by 2020. Small trucks will increasingly have turbo-charged motors, and there’s a big push for more fuel-efficient, motor-assist vehicles, she said. Also, manufacturers are using new composite materials that promote both fuel economy and safety. The materials are bonded with adhesives rather than welding.
Connectivity and self-driven vehicles are being introduced gradually, starting with the luxury market. Two key groups will embrace the self-driving cars, Dziczek predicted: “Young people, who see driving as a distraction,” and older people who can no longer drive safely but still need to get around.
New connectivity systems in cars will enable people to make automatic payments at a fast food drive-through window and will enable drivers to choose routes that give them the best mileage, she said, while sensors embedded in roads will detect whether cars are slipping.
Larger numbers of baby boomers reaching retirement means automakers will need to step up their hiring to replace aging workers, but they can’t find enough people with the right skills, Dziczek said. What is needed is “cross-skilling”: people who can assume responsibility for a variety of functions.
When it comes to automotive repairs, there’s a growing tendency to replace parts rather than fix them, as repairs are becoming more complex, Dziczek said. Cars don’t need as much routine maintenance, but there is a need for more diagnostics. Ford has even developed software that carries out engine upgrades.
There is a growing role for tech support in auto repair, and mechanics need more “soft skills”—like problem-solving and customer relations skills—as well as the ability to understand data storage and analysis, Dziczek said.
She urged community colleges to be “industry driven” in their response to the needs of employers.
“Pick some industries to specialize in. Cultivate your brand so you’ll become the place they’ll go to for skilled workers,” Dziczek said.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges