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Technology Driving Automotive Recruitment Trends

Advances in automotive technology are no longer just a matter of science; they are increasingly becoming one of labor.

 Sándor Bodnár

When you are looking at a shiny new (electric) car, admiring the amount of technology the streamlined chassis houses, the last thing that comes to your mind is probably the labor market. But it should, as cars and innovation are strongly linked to the pool of experts available. Labor has not kept up with the expansion of the automotive industry in Hungary (a story that is repeated in virtually all economic fields): the number of employable professionals has remained the same.  

This is a global problem. The job market is saturated with technology-related opportunities and the number of candidates is limited. Regardless of the field, recruiting specialists with several years of experience is challenging, Dóra Tagai, head of HR at Thyssenkrupp tells the Budapest Business Journal.  

“It is not only software or hardware developers; it is any expert-level professional from test to quality engineers.” There are fewer on the market and they tend to change more slowly, she adds.   

Thyssenkrupp is trying to solve this problem by attracting candidates with inspiring jobs. The competence center in Budapest “owns” the entire group’s know-how, so offering attractive projects to work on is fairly easy, Tagai, says.  

“We won’t assign an unexperienced, young engineer to the development of self-driving vehicles, but they can watch, learn and can get involved in the process from the beginning,” she says. The possibility to innovate can also be a draw for the more experienced, who might have been in the same position for a long time.  

More Than Assembly

There are several more companies, suppliers such as Bosch or Continental, with R&D centers in Hungary. But even manufacturers where the focus is on assembly need engineers.

“I strongly disagree with those claiming Hungary is no more than a vehicle parts assembly hub,” says Sándor Bodnár who is responsible for the expert permanent recruitment business line at Hays Hungary. The company is strongly involved in the Hungarian automotive labor market: more than 70% of the firm’s recruitment projects last year were in this sector, says Bodnár.

“Several assembly hubs, for example Dana at Győr, design a part from scratch, rather than assembling it from imported pieces”, he says. In many research centers in Hungary, engineers design products (for example lidars – distance measuring devices – for self-driving cars) that usually are not designed elsewhere, except for the company’s home headquarters.

As a result, the demand for white-collar workforce, both in manufacturing and in R&D, is high. Just as in any sector where technology is involved, in the automotive industry it is IT professionals who are most in demand.  

Today everything is software-controlled, which puts software developers on top of recruiters’ lists. They earn the most: a developer with two-to-three years’ experience can get HUF 600,000-700,000 gross, while a fresh graduate’s starting salary is about HUF 450,000.  

There is also a shortage of electrical engineers: hardware developers, test engineers, automation engineers and robot programmers. Quality Assurance engineers are becoming more and more challenging to find. The demand for the latter has jumped recently; every company is searching for them, Bodnár notes. It is the precise focus of the company, for example R&D or new project implementation, that defines what skills are needed more.  

Tight Supply

Despite tight supply, companies are reluctant to widen the circle of potential candidates. This is a rather tight market and won’t get wider as long as companies expect applicants to have experience in this industry, Bodnár says. If they need a molding specialist, why not hire someone with experience in molding from another industry, he suggests.

Companies may require industry experience, but they do lower the bar when it comes to soft skills, the expert says. Language command is a must but interpersonal or management skill may not be – even if an engineer today leads teams and supervises projects.  

The shortage of IT professionals is so acute that some companies would hire professionals with no university or college degree. “There are a number of non-accredited IT academies that train junior programmers in one-to-two years. We have taken on people coming from such institutions; we try and use every source,” Thyssenkrupp’s Tagai says.  

Bence Bank, recruitment team leader at automotive navigation solution provider NNG tells the BBJ: “We are partnered with Codecool Academy where we have a dedicated training program for Java and C++. In addition, we have ad-hoc relationships with selected universities who cooperate with us during job-fairs and specific events.”

In order to secure labor supply, companies offer attractive remuneration packages. The Suzuki plant in Hungary, due to its proximity to the Slovakian border needs to pay special attention to that.

“We try and offer an attractive package to attract and retain workforce,” Viktória Ruska, head of communication at Magyar Suzuki tells the BBJ. This is not confined to salary; fringe benefits and other services play a role too, Ruska says. The company has been reviewing its remuneration package to better accommodate the needs of its workers. It had better do so; Slovakian car makers also try and recruit from Hungary.  

Though salaries are definitely a factor for one to change, especially for blue collar workers, some companies would rather not enter a wage competition.

“We keep up with market trends, but we don’t see the point of offering more. It is not these colleagues [who receive a higher salary] who stay with the company longer in the long run” Tagai says.

An engineer working at the Audi factory in Győr.