Many component manufacturers have increased their staff numbers in the last 12 months, though these are still below previous peak levels. Feedback from businesses suggests that vehicle sales in some other European countries remains more subdued, which is dampening production activity to an extent.
During the recession, significantly reduced shifts were common, with manufacturers running two per day, rather than three, and in some cases operating shortened weeks. Now the majority are in production 24 hours a day, five days a week, meaning that there's more full-time work.
The improvement in market conditions seems to be resulting in an increase in permanent roles being created, particularly on the technical engineering side. Organisations are transferring numbers of operational contract workers to permanent contracts as the future looks more secure. Contract staff are, however, still being utilised for specific projects.
Across the board, demand for skilled and qualified professionals is high – in particular the likes of quality engineers, manufacturing engineers and plant maintenance staff, as well as project managers to oversee and accommodate new product launches.
Good client-facing skills are valued in this sector, because employees often come into contact with client representatives and the ability to manage these relationships is important. The capacity to be flexible and adaptable in response to changes in client requirements is another desirable attribute to have, as is a commitment to continuous improvement. Finally, of course, being able to work in a fast-paced production environment – which some who transition to automotive from other sectors struggle with – remains key.
There is, however, a shortage of experienced candidates with a strong track record in the automotive industry, which is most acute in first-tier component suppliers. This has been accentuated by a low intake of new blood during the recession, and increasingly businesses are having to consider taking candidates from other high-intensity manufacturing sectors and converting them. Some employers have made the situation even more challenging for themselves by adhering to recruitment processes that are rigorous and lengthy, meaning strong candidates sometimes get snapped up by faster-moving competitors.
While there hasn't been a big shift in salaries yet, looking ahead the competition for good people is likely to put pressure on pay and benefits packages. Many employers are also looking at taking on apprentices and directly targeting more graduates.