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Car industry looking for new skills set


Car industry looking for new skills set

Shortage of women recruits highlighted as manufacturing faces new challenges.

Tony Lewis reports on graduate roles and future trends in the automotive sector

The car industry wants graduates who are ‘learning agile’ whether they are recruited into the industrial side of the business – engineering and building cars – or into the commercial side – selling the cars. That’s the view of Chris Donkin, senior client partner at Korn/Ferry International (, a recruitment company.

Donkin defines learning agile as "the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.”

Whether recruiting graduates or more senior staff, the key is to identify those who fit the bill, says Donkin. The problem is that only 15% of people are ‘learning agile’ adding that employers are still evaluating whether learning agility is a skill that can be developed and nurtured. 

He cautions that engineering graduates who don’t understand the commercial framework of industry will find it difficult to progress while those with sales or marketing degrees wanting to enter the commercial side of the car industry, need to learn lessons from other service industries, especially when it comes to managing customer expectations.

While the car industry has, traditionally, looked for mechanical and electrical engineers, new area of technology such as lightweight materials, telematics and infotainment are becoming ever more important which is why companies like Ford ( and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) want graduates from other disciplines. They are looking for those with systems integration ability, software engineering capability and those who understand Bluetooth coding and infotainment.

Graham Hoare, Ford Global Director for Vehicle Evaluation and Verification, says that the imperative is to "refresh the talent pool with much higher technical capability than previously required especially in the areas of low carbon emissions, concentrating on both advanced and conventional powertrains.”

The car industry also needs more women engineers. "The role of engineers is to develop products for people,” says Hoare "so having input from guys and girls is really important. We have fewer women engineers in the UK than in China, Turkey (where Ford has a key manufacturing centre) and even Germany so we have to work harder in the UK to demonstrate that women can add tremendous value especially in the area of human machine interface.

"Auto engineering is a great opportunity for women, 25% of all successful scholarship applicants are women which might not sound much but it is significantly higher that in the workplace at the moment.”

Ford’s rate is also higher than at JLR where the female intake [see case study] is around 15-16 %, up from just seven per cent four years ago. JLR notes that 7 out of 10 women who study engineering decide not to pursue it as a career. "There is still a misconception about engineering as a career,” says Robinder Gill, who is responsible for Graduate, Undergraduate and Apprentice Recruitment at JLR adding that for some reason not fully understood, women tend to study civil or chemical engineering rather than mechanical or electrical engineering. But both companies do better than the average – only 6% of the UK engineering workforce are women according to the Women’s Engineering Society.