As the auto industry embraces electric and self-driving vehicles the war for talent is set to intensify, with manufacturers searching for candidates with deep expertise in AI, robotics and a passion for cars.  

Over the coming decade the US mobility industry will create 30,000 jobs for engineers with degrees in computer-related subjects, according to new research released by Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

However, that demand could be as much as six times the expected number of such graduates, exacerbating the industry’s already significant talent shortage.

The study, conducted alongside Detroit Mobility Lab, argued the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles (AV) will require engineers to have more sophisticated systems-level skills.

The research, released ahead of the annual Detroit Motor Show this week, highlighted recent layoffs at the major auto companies like General Motors and Ford underscore how much talent requirements are changing.  

And in order to find talent incumbent companies such as GM and Ford are paying high premiums to acquire startups whose workforces have those abilities.

“Companies cannot delay defining what their workforce needs will be for the next few years so they can begin to plan accordingly. Those that delay could find it difficult to compete,” said Xavier Mosquet, the Detroit-based BCG senior partner who led the research. “Jobs will also be created where talent is developed.”

Locally, Holden put the call out last year for engineers to join its Advanced Vehicle Development division to work on electric and autonomous cars.   

According to the research, unlike today’s engineers who typically work on specific automotive components, such as engines or electronics, the interconnected nature of future automotive systems will require engineers who are cross-functional “tinkerers,” who have a strong foundation in mathematics and physics; deep skills in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, data sciences, and software; and are passionate about cars.

Innovation hot spots

The research noted Silicon Valley, Boston, and Pittsburgh have already become hot spots for auto industry talent, in large part due to the mobility research, such as Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Carnegie Mellon University, respectively.  

Detroit, which was traditionally the centre of the US auto industry, has made some steps towards embracing the future, the research said. For example Ford recently announced it would turn a former railroad station in downtown Detroit into a 1.2 million square-foot smart-vehicle innovation hub.

But to retain its significance, the research argued the city of Detroit needs to do more to attract talent, including introducing higher-education programs that produce graduates with the integrated engineering skills.

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