Skills: a major challenge for the automotive industry

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Availability of and access to skills: a key competitive lever for innovation-oriented companies

For companies, the challenge of skills is primarily short-term, as many of them are having difficulty recruiting for their current jobs. This is particularly true for companies whose main activity is manufacturing. They need technicians capable of running their machines, which are often digital machines, according to their order book. This difficulty is due to several factors.

In some employment areas, particularly in the two Savoie regions and in the Ain region, companies are seeing a flight of talent and skills to Switzerland, which offers better salaries. Companies are therefore facing difficulties in attracting and especially in retaining skills.

Companies are also observing a change in the aspirations of young graduates. It is often observed that the company welcomes the engineer who has just graduated, trains him internally for the first few years and when he becomes fully operational, he may aspire to other experiences, such as travelling and discovering the world. This change in the mindset of the new generations, this lesser sense of belonging to the company, poses questions for companies.

Finally, in a more structural way, we note that the vocational track in the automotive industry suffers from a lack of attractiveness. Existing training courses sometimes have difficulty recruiting students. Fewer and fewer young people are turning to this sector, whose jobs seem to be harder, less fashionable and less lucrative than those in the digital sector, for example. This is not the least of the challenges, as it is much more difficult to improve the image of a sector than to damage it. The energy to be deployed to gain image points is considerable.

We can underline this issue of the loss of attractiveness of certain training courses for students who are increasingly aware of the challenges of ecological transition. In this context, the automobile and road industries are sometimes considered as fields that are not very sensitive to the requirements of sustainable development of the planet. These perceptions are somewhat legitimate, but they are a little short-sighted, because the transformation of these sectors is precisely essential to meet the challenges of ecological transition. This implies training the people they need to accomplish these transformations. Ultimately, it is the ambition of the automotive industry and the schools that train them for the transition that is being challenged.

More emerging skill needs

The automotive industry is undergoing profound changes, which can be categorized as follows:

  • The ecological transition with the transformation of the energy mix in favor of hybrid, electric (battery and hydrogen) and NGV engines, etc;
  • The digital transition through the digitization of vehicles and production tools;
  • Social changes that imply a different relationship with the automobile through the rise of mobility services.

As far as digitalization is concerned, we need to make a clear distinction between what concerns vehicles and what concerns the production tool. Vehicles are becoming more complex, with more and more onboard electronic systems and power electronics. There is a growing trend towards so-called mechatronic or plastronic parts, i.e. those incorporating electronics. This is not the core business of the automotive industry, which has tended to focus on mechanics and plastics. We can clearly see the challenge this raises in terms of acquiring new skills in electronics for companies. On the other hand, the digitization of the production tool is being deployed to become more competitive, more efficient, in terms of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning: an information system that enables the daily management and monitoring of all of a company’s operational processes), the supply chain, and the work tool. Here too, a production line operator or a maintenance operator is required to develop new skills that go beyond mechanical adjustments to master new digital tools and applications.

These changes in both the products manufactured and the production tools therefore raise the need for new skills in existing professions, as well as relatively new skill requirements for the automotive sector linked to new technologies. The challenges concern not only initial training to integrate new skills, but also continuing education to support employees in the new skills expected in their professions. These changes are triggering a strong acceleration of change in the automotive industry. This is something quite new for a sector that was marked by rather slow and cyclical changes in the past.

It is important to emphasize that these major changes are having an impact on the very scope of what is traditionally understood by the automotive industry. On the one hand, companies in the sector are having to integrate technologies and know-how that have been developed outside the sector until now. These include electromobility and hydrogen, which are developing spectacularly in the industry. We are seeing changes in fundamental elements such as the manufacture of parts, with the transition from foundry-type methods to additive manufacturing methods, which is profoundly changing the design and production professions. On the other hand, the shift from the automotive industry to the concept of mobility systems, or even mobility as a service, means that companies outside the industry are rapidly moving into the transport and mobility field, particularly in terms of new digital services.

Thus, we can see that the scope of the automotive industry is changing and tending to expand by integrating the issue of vehicles into a more global mobility system. This upheaval of the automotive industry’s ecosystem poses serious challenges for traditional companies to position themselves in relation to these changes, which imply an evolution of their own perimeter and therefore of their professions. Consequently, the question of the scope of the automotive professions, and the skills that lie behind them, appears to be particularly evolving and complex. At the same time, companies cannot afford to wait for all the implications of these changes to be taken into account before moving forward in terms of skills. They are obliged to make bets: we sense that this is what is going to develop and we invest accordingly in this or that field of skills.

What perspective for the identification of skills needs and responses in terms of training?

The initiatives in favor of skills management and the existing training offer are already very extensive. And many players are working on these issues. However, there is still progress to be made to ensure that the players work more closely together (companies, government departments, professional sectors, training and research organizations, clusters, etc.). This is one of the keys to successfully meeting the challenge of transforming the sector.

A national issue

The automotive industry in France is structured around the Automotive Platform (PFA – Filière Automobile et Mobilités). This brings together all partners (manufacturers, equipment suppliers, subcontractors and mobility players) to define and implement the French industry’s strategy in terms of innovation, competitiveness, employment and skills. In 2016, the PFA submitted a PIA (Plan d’Investissement d’Avenir) entitled “Attractiveness, Skills, Jobs”. It responds to a need to anticipate the sector in the face of economic, technological and societal changes: what skills and employment needs of the sector in the short, medium and long term? This initiative is the result of a prospective study on the skills needs of the automotive industry carried out by the Observatory of Metallurgy Professions, which identified the jobs that are under pressure and the jobs that are changing, as well as the associated skills needs. On the basis of this work, all the automotive clusters in the region were mobilized to position themselves on the subject and to propose projects to be integrated into this national PIA.

What about CARA?

In the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, CARA is a co-sponsor with the French Ministry of Education of a project to create training paths, in conjunction with the Campus des Métiers et des Qualifications.

The Campus des Métiers et Qualifications (CMQ) is a national program launched by the Ministry of National Education and Youth and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. A CMQ brings together in a given territory a group of players – secondary and higher education institutions, research organizations, rectorates, DIRECCTE (Regional Directorates for Business, Competition, Consumption, Labor and Employment), local authorities, companies, competitiveness clusters, technology platforms, etc. – in order to build an initial training offer that is adapted to the needs of each region. – The CMQ is therefore a framework for the development of a training program in a sector with a high economic impact. The CMQ is therefore a privileged framework for cooperation between the business community and the educational community (with a broad approach covering secondary and higher education) to meet the challenges of employment and skills development in the territories. The CMQ label issued by the Ministry of Education provides resources to finance all or part of the organization’s activities. There are about ten CMQs in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, led by the Rectorat and supported by the Region.

Hélène Fantinutti, Development Director – CARA
Jean-Baptiste Lesort, former Vice President Higher Education, Research and Skills Development – CARA

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