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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who Would You Join?

Suppose you were an automotive engineer, in Detroit, with a set of skills that was moderately in demand. Suppose that you were not sure if you wanted to stay at your current employer, who has not been treating its employees much better than cattle. You could jump ship and maybe work at one of these companies, who are hiring:

Suppliers:
  • Bosch
  • Siemens
  • TRW

OEMs:
  • DaimlerChrysler
  • Ford
  • GM
  • Mitsubishi
  • Hyundai/Kia
  • Nissan
Who would you work for, and why?

On one hand, working for a supplier gives you a certain amount of security, in that your customer base is diversified, and you have a better chance of surviving a big industry shake-out. According to surveys I have seen in trade journals, suppliers actually pay better than OEMs on average. But suppliers can be harder to advance in, and often do not have as wide a range of projects to work on.

GM and Ford are shaky. Ford is known for treating its engineers poorly, while GM is known for a plodding, indecisive corporate culture. But you can advance quickly at Ford, which values gunslingers; GM values engineering and supports engineers to do good work. DCX is the strongest of the Americans, but isn't that much better off, really. Chrysler was not (in the past) known for excellence in engineering--more "get it done quick and cheap". Now they are known for repackaging old Mercedes designs.

These reputations may no longer be accurate. If any of my few readers are in the business, let me know in the comments what your experience is.

Mitsubishi is on its way out, it seems, like Isuzu, and would be a very risky choice. Nissan is owned by the French, ugh. Hyundai/Kia is up and coming, but much of its engineering is done in Korea by Koreans, I suspect. And the cars, zzzzzzz.

In general, the idea of working for a foreign run company leaves me cold, as if I am switching sides in a cold war. Even though the "American" companies are all global behemoths, which crap on their workers and suppliers to save a nickel, all the while wrapping themselves in the American flag.

Or would you try to get out of the automotive industry all together? You like the work, but the constant contraction and endless stream of bad news doesn't bode well for your future.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

You skipped Honda and Toyota. They seemd to respct American workers and engineers.

The Auto Prophet said...

Honda has virtually no employees in metro Detroit. Toyota is hard to get into, they have a technical center, but they are only hiring a few specific positions.

Dave said...

This is an interesting point of discussion. I work at a domestic automaker, and came here from a small supplier (~$300-400M Sales) who went bankrupt just months after I left.

Though I don't like all I see here, the grass isn't so green elsewhere, either. Suppliers are under constant pricing pressure, and the one I worked for didn't pay that well, either. The end result was (at least in manufacturing) that you had to spend a LOT of time teaching and explaining why things had to be done a certain way. It got tedious, and made you wish you could get in some higher-caliber people into your quality, purchasing, and other areas.

That was my late '90s experience. Others may have different stories, especially with larger companies. If I leave this company, I'd probably go to another industry. I interned with Eaton years ago, and they seemed to be on the right track with their diversification. They do have automotive business, but they also do a lot of aerospace, fluid power, electrical, and other industrial products. It seemed like even if one sector was tanking, the others were doing OK. So I'd probably go somewhere like that, but it would take more to get me off my perch here.

Another thing that might do it was if I could go work for Roush or someone involved racing/specialty automotive products. Something cool like that...

Anonymous said...

Mr Prophet,
I wholly agree with the summary of the domestic 3.

I work for a domestic OEM and I've been packing a parachute for the past year. While I'm quite satisfied with the work and moderately satisfied with the pay, I'm concerned that the senior management may get a case of diahrrea and,.. well you know what flows down hill....

Anyway, my parachute consists of contact lists in other OEMs, old acquaintences in a bankrupt supplier (used to work for them), contacts in suppliers I've worked with, contacts in the semiconductor industry, contacts in the engineering software industry and academic contacts.

I've been working on a portfolio of patents, papers and completing another degree as fast a possible.

I hope nothing happens, but I'm prepared.

As to who would I join, at this point, while I have loyality and pride in my employer, I have family to consider and will go where ever I have the best chance to provide for them.

My advice is to prepare ahead of time. Get your name known in your specialty, know what you want and what you are willing to accept.Know what constraints your family will present.

The biggest single issue is wheter you are wed to the auto industry and why? I love the auto industry because of its scale, the value of finding small incremental improvements and the complexity of the systems. In any future options, I am looking for the same qualities. This has led me to explore the following, however I am not fully armed with contacts yet: Tooling, Custom Machining, Defense, Semiconductor, Engineering Software, and Medical Equipment.

One thing I'm trying to avoid is any work that relies on rebilling of my personal services. There is no scale in that and the future growth is limited.

Good Luck!

willjwylie said...

Im in the upwards end of the oild industry. Although I do not have any experience in the automotive industry.

My company Manufactures Discovery and Recovery equipment. Currently we are seeing a large jump in sales from all continents.

I would say to leave the automotive industry completely or move to Japan. But for the coming years all I can see is a fallout of engineer's and such similar to that of the dotcom bust.

I assume that it will get better after the GM/Ford finish restructuring. but for right now i would consider taking a break and getting some experience outside of the industry. It might be years, but if you can find a manufacturing company that has a good market share with little chance of dissapation. go for it.

Personally I had switched trades. I had a small amount of practical knowledge in my current field, but now im very well versed. Its good to switch.

nivek2002 said...

What about Honeywell?

Kevin

Dave said...

I agree with the poster who emphasized planning ahead of time. I've been examining the opportunities, and even gone on a couple of interviews in other industries, but it takes time and effort to "re-package" what you've been doing into something that's valued in another industry.

It's not so much that they are that much different, but there is different jargon in use (especially in medical device companies and pharma companies) that can make you kind of go blank when someone asks you about some acronym you've never heard before. Anyway, good luck.

My feeling is that anyone who's not preparing themselves is consigning themselves to remain with whatever ship they are on, regardless of where that lands them. I just haven't found anything good enough to tip the scale yet, but that doesn't mean I have quit looking...

The Angry Engineer said...

I wouldn't want to be working for GM or Ford at this point - my confidence that they're going to survive the next couple of years is pretty low.

Where I'd want to be right now is working at a Tier 1 that supplies to transplant OEMs such as Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Hyundai. If a supplier is a leader in its field and has a broad customer base, its chances for survival are quite good. Keep in mind that this does not have to be a large company, and indeed, some of the most successful suppliers right now are rather small companies. Working for a supplier is a good way to get experience working with as many OEMs as possible, because each one has things that they do well, and of course things that one should learn not to do.

I'm moving on from my current job at a Tier 1 auto supplier to the same company's electronic division, which does some automotive work but is more focused on military, over-the-road, and off-highway work. I absolutely loved working in the auto industry, but it's a depressing place right now.