TOKYO - Major automakers are scrambling to hire midcareer IT engineers and other specialists, as the auto industry is facing a shortage of employees with the skills to orchestrate a shift to innovation centred on autonomous driving and cars equipped with constant internet access.
Some major electronics makers have been struggling in recent times. Automakers, looking for the human resources they need to compete, are trying to lure engineers away from such companies.
In mid-July, Toyota Motor Corp. put up posters at stations along the JR Nanbu Line, which links Kawasaki with Tachikawa in western Tokyo. The posters declared that Toyota was looking to hire midcareer engineers who would take on the development of next-generation vehicles. They contained messages such as, “What? You work at THAT electronics maker?”
Among the major electronics makers with facilities such as laboratories and plants along or near the line are Toshiba Corp., Canon Inc., Hitachi Ltd., Fujitsu Ltd. and NEC Corp. A Toyota PR representative explained that the posters were intended “to reach out to engineers working at companies along the line,” but this approach is rather unusual.
The hiring of midcareer IT engineers by automakers has accelerated since about the second half of 2015.
Nissan Motor Co. has set up a development base for internet-connected vehicles in Tokyo and is recruiting engineers from fields including software, home appliances and finance. Honda Motor Co. also plans to hire 590 midcareer engineers in fiscal 2017, more than double the figure in fiscal 2016.
Old methods falling behind
The auto industry has stepped up efforts to attract experienced engineers because “automakers can’t meet the demand for the human resources needed to develop autonomous driving technologies by drawing on their own personnel,” a top automaker executive said.
Major carmakers have several thousand engineers, but the bulk of them specialise in developing engines and design. Autonomous driving development requires technologies including image recognition, processing and transmission, and data analysis — all fields that match the strengths of major electronics makers.
For many years, Japan’s auto industry heavily favoured a principle of “in-house production,” in which development was entrusted to engineers who had been thoroughly trained at the company.
However, the trend towards autonomous driving has upended this approach due to a need for rapid development. Innovations from even three to five years ago are often viewed as ancient history.
According to a survey by Recruit Career Co., the number of IT engineers sought by auto companies and parts makers in June was 2.5 times the number in the same month in 2014. The ratio of job openings to job applicants — which shows how many positions, including from other industries, were available for each person seeking a job — reached 3.83-to-1 for IT engineers.
This was significantly higher than the ratio of 1.87-to-1 for the overall job transfer market.
Tough times spark exodus
The electronics industry has many technologies that could be applied to autonomous driving technologies.
In recent years, electronics companies such as Toshiba and Sharp Corp. have struggled financially and slashed thousands of employees. These layoffs “were the impetus for the growing movement of skilled workers to the auto industry,” a senior official at a job placement support company said. Auto companies have absorbed engineers ejected from the electronics industry.
In November 2016, an explanatory meeting for engineers seeking to switch to the auto industry was held in Tokyo. Several dozen engineers attended.
“Your abilities will be essential for making autonomous driving a reality,” was one of the main messages that human resources officials from automakers conveyed to attendees.
“The development of autonomous driving technologies has benefits such as reducing traffic accidents, so it’s a very rewarding career,” said Yusuke Ohashi, a manager of the manufacturing division at Recruit Career Co., which organised the meeting.
“I think the fluid movement of human resources between this field and the electronics industry will further increase in the future.”