The transportation industry's promise of a future that moves people and products in a safer, more efficient, and connected way has spiked a talent war for a new kind of workforce—one with the skill sets necessary to develop autonomous and electric vehicle technologies. What is the next generation of engineers looking for in future employers and careers? The collegiate engineering competition EcoCAR surveyed its students to find out what this highly sought-after talent desires with career placement.
"Automotive and technology companies are looking for the next echelon of talent, and the challenges they face in hiring and retaining engineers has become a major topic of discussion," said Daniel Simmons, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "The EcoCAR findings provide companies with an understanding of what these students want from their employers and careers. Those who take notice will surely gain a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent. Through our STEM Rising initiative at DOE, we highlight our investments in STEM outreach and career development to attract the best and the brightest to work with us to help resolve our nation's energy and security challenges."
Commissioned by The EcoCAR Mobility Challenge—and in partnership with KRC Research, the study is based on the online responses of 454 EcoCAR participants from 16 universities across the U.S. and Canada. The survey's objective was threefold: to learn what candidates are looking for in an employer, to find where candidates are looking for job opportunities, and to discover who influences candidates in their employment decisions.
Career advancement and learning opportunities are important. When considering an employer, nearly all students say that an employer offering career advancement opportunities (98%), having a wage or salary that is competitive (97%) and offering learning and development opportunities (96%) are important attributes.
For a company to stand out, students are looking for an employer that is trustworthy (99%), has a strong, credible reputation (97%), and is known for being innovative (96%).
Companies based in desirable cities or regions near affordable, safe housing should tout their location when engaging with recruits. According to survey respondents, it is important that the location is safe (61%), close to where the student plans to live and has a short commute (59%), and is in an interesting area (56%).
Job searches begin online, but connections are made in person. Eighty one percent of students typically begin their search for employment in earnest in the second half of their undergraduate career. The job search typically begins online with students examining company websites (83%), LinkedIn (58%), and Glassdoor (56%) to find specific information about potential employers. It would benefit companies to invest resources in on-campus recruitment efforts as well, as 65% of respondents say they use career fairs to search for actual job openings.
Today's recruits also follow companies on social media and are primarily interested in and most likely to engage with articles (62%) and videos (61%) compared to infographics (40%) and blog posts (21%).
When it comes to seeking guidance, students are most likely to speak with those closest to them, including family (70%) and friends (70%), as well as mentors (54%) and classmates (50%).
"At the end of the day, the job search for these in-demand engineering students comes down to a company's reputation and the influence of those closest to them, as well as the one-on-one connections made during the recruitment process," said Ann Schlenker, Director of the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory.
Electrification and autonomous vehicle job opportunities are key to securing top talent. When it comes to the automotive industry, students are particularly interested in pursuing careers that focus on the autonomous capabilities and electrification of vehicles. As students progress in their profession, they hope to advance the ability of vehicles to operate autonomously and to rely more on electricity for propulsion. Nearly four in 10 students say they are interested in working for all three business types (manufacturer, startup, or supplier). Twenty-eight percent said they are interested in working for an automotive manufacturer only, which leaves the majority of students considering jobs at a supplier or a startup, something that wasn't the case 10 years ago.
"With the increase in technology content in vehicles, we're seeing students focus on how they can contribute to the development of that technology, regardless if that's with a manufacturer or supplier or a non-traditional player in the mobility market," said Kristen Wahl, Director of the EcoCAR program. "The insights revealed from this study are beneficial for recruiters because, by surveying EcoCAR students, we're going straight to the source of the best and brightest STEM talent entering the workforce."