Industries to Watch: Automotive

auto industryThere's no denying that workers in the auto industry were hard-hit by the recession. A quick look at Michigan's unemployment rate over the past few years -- which peaked at 14.5 percent in December 2009 -- confirms that a lot of jobs were lost in the home of the Big Three automakers. But that doesn't mean the motor vehicle industry can't make a comeback. In fact, there are a number of reasons to believe that job prospects for auto workers will be good in the coming years.

The first factor that will contribute to job openings in auto manufacturing is the potential for a shortage of workers in the future. According to a recent study called "Beyond the Big Leave: The Future of Automotive Human Resources" by the Center for Automotive Research, all of the five automakers that participated in the research -- GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda -- cited concerns about attracting skilled workers in the future. Additionally, there is concern in the industry about a large portion of the current work force "aging out" -- expected to occur in the next decade as the baby boomer generation begins to retire.

Besides a heightened need for qualified workers in the future, there are also signs that the industry itself is regaining its pre-recession health, which will also contribute to a restoration of jobs in the industry. Both GM and Ford reported good profits in 2010, and Chrysler cut its losses in half between the second and third quarters of last year.

The Big Three aren't the only car companies reporting a comeback, either. According to a report in The Birmingham News, the three automakers with plants in Alabama -- Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai -- saw a combined 52 percent increase in output in 2010.

Additionally, a January 2011 report by the South Carolina Automotive Council found that the industry is responsible for creating 5.4 percent of the jobs in the state, more than any other industry. The state's healthy motor vehicle sector is not only due to the presence of commercial car makers like BMW and Daimler, but also to companies that produce military cars and emergency vehicles.

Why you should consider it

Auto jobs are often well-paid and typically provide excellent benefits. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that "at $1,251 per week, earnings of production workers in establishments that manufacture complete motor vehicles were among the highest in the nation in 2008." Similarly, the study in South Carolina found that mean wages for auto-industry workers were about 31 percent higher than the state average.

The industry is also famous for its comprehensive health insurance coverage. Widely published figures in 2008 suggested that, while workers at Big Three manufacturers (who were also members of the United Auto Workers union) made an average of $28 an hour, they actually earned closer to $70 an hour when health insurance coverage and benefits were factored into the equation.

Jobs to consider

If you're thinking about making a career move, here are a few jobs to consider in the auto industry:

1. Parts manufacturing

According to the BLS, the majority of people (62 percent) employed in the auto manufacturing industry actually work in parts manufacturing, producing everything from engines and transmissions to seats and steering wheels.

Earnings: $17.48 per hour *

2. Mechanical engineer

Mechanical engineers come into the auto manufacturing process long before the vehicles are produced, designing and testing the car's mechanical and electrical functioning.

Earnings: $88,987 **

3. Maintenance machinist

These workers ensure that the equipment in motor vehicle factories is functioning properly and make repairs on broken machines.

Earnings: $17 per hour *

4. Automobile manufacturing service representative

These employees work with auto dealerships or auto parts retailers to resolve claims of defective cars or car parts.

Earnings: $66,172 **

5. First-line supervisor

First-line supervisors oversee workers on the factory floor.

Earnings: $54,060

*According to the BLS

** Salary information provided by

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