Automotive Industry Careers and Jobs: Introduction

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Are you a victim of the automotive industry? That is, were you laid off or terminated because of the downturn in economy? (This, more realistically, was due to a few greedy corporate CEOs and politicians snarfing up all the profits!)

What are your chances of finding work (again or for the first time) in the automotive industry?Which automotive-industry jobs/careers are on the rise, on the decline or simply stagnant? And even if some jobs / careers are rising or leveled-off for the time being, how might the ever-evolving automotive industry -- both in the U.S. and worldwide -- affect these trends?

These are some of the questions we will attempt to answer in our Automotive Industry Careers / Jobs Guide.

The modern automotive industry is massive, complex, and in a continual state of flux. The successful manufacturing of an automobile today—from drawing board to salesroom floor—depends equally upon the expertise of many different professions. There are numerous employment opportunities. If you really want to work in the automotive industry, whether it be in a business, technical, scientific, creative, financial, sales, mechanical, or assembly position, chances are there’s a spot for your specialty in or related to the industry.

Careers in automotives offer a great range of earnings potential and educational requirements. Earnings range from slightly more than minimum wage for precision machinists to $100,000 or more for very experienced and successful sales managers, ser vice technicians, engineers, designers, test drivers, and dealership owners. A few of these careers—such as automobile sales worker and automotive industry worker—require little formal education, but are excellent starting points for a career in the industry. Others, such as automobile collision repairer, engineering technician, and automobile detailer, require some postsecondary training or an associate’s degree. Many positions in the industry (such as engineer, designer, and sales manager) require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Advanced degrees—especially for science and engineering careers—are usually required for the best positions.

Approximately 1.1 million people are employed in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The largest automotive employers in the United States are known as the Big Three (Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler LLC). Major Asian and some European automakers also contribute significantly to U.S. industry employment by opening plants in the United States. These include: Honda, Nissan, Kia, Toyota, Isuzu, Subaru, Hyundai, BMW, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz.

New and used automotive dealers also offer major job opportunities in the field—employing approximately 1.2 million workers in sales, management, installation, repair, maintenance, and administrative occupations.

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry will decline by 14 percent through 2016 due to increasing competition from international automobile manufacturers, improvements in productivity, and more foreign outsourcing of parts. Employment at automobile dealerships is expected to grow as fast as the average for all industries through 2016, as the number of cars and trucks on U.S. roads is expected to continue to increase.

Much of the recent recovery attempts in the U.S. automotive industry have been characterized by cost-cutting measures, including further elimination of manufacturing jobs and consolidation of large companies. Such mergers often result in the elimination of jobs where efforts would be duplicated under the new organization. Further cuts have also come as American automakers implement lean production measures used by their foreign competitors. Lean production is characterized by increased automation, quality control by workers on the line, and smaller, just-in-time inventories.

Competition among U.S. automakers and their international competitors will be fierce as the Big Three attempt to lure back aging baby boomers from their foreign automobiles, while both battle over capturing younger markets.

Research and development (R&D) is one area where job prospects are expected to remain strong. Major industry players are currently funding billions of dollars each year in R&D and are likely to continue doing so. Fierce competition forces automakers to produce cars packed with new technology, from amenities to safety features, one step above their rival’s. A major area of competition is in the development of hybrid electric vehicles—automobiles that combine an electric engine with internal combustion. Hybrids have better fuel economy and create lower pollution emissions than conventional vehicles. Other alternative fuel technologies, such as ethanol and bio-butanols, are also being explored. R&D jobs will be mostly for engineers and scientists in the industry. Stricter air pollution laws are also spurring R&D to rethink how cars are powered.

The automotive industry is strongly affected by the health of the economy. A 10 to 20 percent change in employment from one year to the next is not unusual. Less consumer demand for cars and trucks during economic recession usually results in manufacturers firing or laying off workers. Workers with advanced training and education will have the best employment opportunities.

Each article in this guide discusses a particular automotive industry occupation in detail. The articles in this guide have been updated and revised with the latest information from the U.S. Department of Labor, professional organizations, and other sources. In addition, the following new articles have been written specifically for this guide: Automotive Dealership Owners and Sales Managers; Automotive Designers; Automotive Engineering Technicians; Automotive Engineers; Driving School Owners and Instructors; Teachers, Automotive Training; Test Drivers; and Writers, Automotives.

The following paragraphs detail the sections and features that appear in the guide.

The Quick Facts section provides a brief summary of the career including recommended school subjects, personal skills, work environment, minimum educational requirements, salary ranges, certification or licensing requirements, and employment outlook. This section also provides acronyms and identification numbers for the following government classification indexes: the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), the Guide for Occupational Exploration (GOE), the National Occupational Classification (NOC) Index, and the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) Occupational Classification System (SOC) index. The DOT, GOE, and O*NET indexes have been created by the U.S. government; the NOC index is Canada’s career classification system. Readers can use the identification numbers listed in the Quick Facts section to access further information about a career. Print editions of the DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Indianapolis, Ind.: JIST Works, 1991) and GOE (Guide for Occupational Exploration. Indianapolis, Ind.: JIST Works, 2001) are available at libraries. Electronic versions of the NOC ( and O*NET ( are available on the Internet. When no DOT, GOE, NOC, or O*NET numbers are present, this means that the U.S. Department of Labor or Human Resources Development Canada have not created a numerical designation for this career. In this instance, you will see the acronym “N/A,” or not available.

The Overview section is a brief introductory description of the duties and responsibilities involved in this career. Oftentimes, a career may have a variety of job titles. When this is the case, alter native career titles are presented. Employment statistics are also provided, when available. The History section describes the history of the particular job as it relates to the overall development of its industry or field. The Job describes the primary and secondary duties of the occupation. Requirements discusses high school and postsecondary education and training requirements, any certification or licensing that is necessary, and other personal requirements for success in the job. Exploring offers suggestions on how to gain experience in or knowledge of the particular job before making a firm educational and financial commitment. The focus is on what can be done while still in high school (or in the early years of college) to gain a better understanding of the job. The Employers section gives an overview of typical places of employment for the job. Starting Out discusses the best ways to land that first job, be it through the college career services office, newspaper ads, Internet employment sites, or personal contact. The Advancement section describes what kind of career path to expect from the job and how to get there. Earnings lists salary ranges and describes the typical fringe benefits. The Work Environment section describes the typical surroundings and conditions of employment—whether indoors or outdoors, noisy or quiet, social or independent. Also discussed are typical hours worked, any seasonal fluctuations, and the stresses and strains of the job. The Outlook section summarizes the job in terms of the general economy and industry projections. For the most part, Outlook information is obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is supplemented by information gathered from professional associations. Job growth terms follow those used in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Growth described as “much faster than the average” means an increase of 21 percent or more. Growth described as “faster than the average” means an increase of 14 to 20 percent. Growth described as “about as fast as the aver age” means an increase of 7 to 13 percent. Growth described as “more slowly than the average” means an increase of 3 to 6 percent. “Little or no change” means a decrease of 2 percent to an increase of 2 percent. “Decline” means a decrease of 3 percent or more. Each article ends with For More Information, which lists organizations that provide information on training, education, internships, scholarships, and job placement.

This guide also includes photographs, informative sidebars, and interviews with professionals in the field.

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