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Jobs and Careers in the Automotive Industry

Nearly every household has a car these days, while many have two or more. There are over 32 million vehicles on the road and despite talk of the recession hitting new car sales, the industry as a whole continues to thrive.

This means that there are still numerous opportunities to work in a role that makes good use of your skills and abilities.

With such a variety of car jobs available, we here focus on a selection that are widely popular, briefly considering what they involve and the kind of person suited to them.

Vehicle Manufacturing

Automotive Design

What's involved? Designing cars might be considered the schoolboys' dream job. Automotive design is an immensely skilled job, open only to the very best. As well as the overall design concept, the designers are responsible for the appearance of the exterior and interior, as well as colours and trim. It's not all about appearances, though, for designers are responsible for quality, function and safety as well. Designers work for other transport forms as well, including buses, motorcycles and trucks.

What kind of person do you need to be? You need a strong mix of skills and attributes to do design work at this level. As well as being creative, you need technical abilities and an aptitude for maths. In a world where design and technology is changing so rapidly, you need to be open to new influences and ideas, being ready to take these on board very quickly.

What training do you need? A degree such as a BSc in Automotive Design is required so that you have an understanding of form development and representation. Employers expect computer aided design skills as well as more traditional design abilities.

Career outlook: Large motor corporations have their own design departments. The unique design of their range is so critical to its sales and market share that it's unlikely to be outsourced. While there are relatively few jobs at the top level, working on concepts, there are plenty more in the other levels of the design departments.

Automotive Engineer

What's involved? Once the vehicle has been designed at concept level, the automotive engineer turns it into a functional vehicle by applying mechanical, electrical, electronic, software and safety engineering to the design. This is meticulous work, ensuring that every system and subsystem performs as required. Engineers usually specialise in a particular area of the vehicle and are usually involved in research, design or testing.

What kind of person do you need to be? These jobs are desirable and you need to have a high level of skills and aptitudes. If you're interested in science subjects and mathematics, as well as engineering, that's a good start. Technical and IT skills, plus a strong interest in vehicles and what makes them work, provide a strong foundation. Additionally, you need to pay close attention to detail and be a dedicated problem solver.

What training do you need? You'll need an engineering degree in mechanical engineering, automotive engineering, engineering design or electrical engineering. A BSc degree that's accredited by a professional institute such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers is best.

What is the Career outlook? For those who are proficient, there is always a great deal of employment available. After gaining a few years' on-the-job experience, it's possible to be promoted to supervisory or project team management roles within the same corporation. Alternatively, others set up their own consultancy firms and work solely on short term contracts.

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Vehicle Retail

Salesperson

What's involved? Most large car dealers have sales forces - used car sellers also rely heavily on salespeople. Fleet sales are another area, selling to large businesses that rely on travelling executives for their own work. Their job is to approach customers who enter the premises, ascertain their needs and present several vehicles that are suitable. If a test drive is asked for, the salesman accompanies the customer and explains the features. If the customer decides to purchase, the salesman returns to the office and sorts out the financing of the vehicle. They co-ordinate the whole sales process until the car is delivered.

What kind of person do you need to be? As most of the work involves meeting the public, you need to have strong interpersonal skills, i.e. listening and communication skills. To be successful, you need to be a skilled negotiator with the ability to instil confidence as you guide customers towards a sales closure. You need to be able to work at a fast pace, frequently under pressure. Ambitious people do well, having the motivation to continue despite knock-backs, as most of the work is commission-based.

What training do you need? There is a range of training supplied by independent providers, some of whom train sales forces within dealerships. However, an academic background is not as important as having a passion for vehicles and a wide existing knowledge of the market. If you are the right kind of person, a dealership will put you through its own training programme.

What is the Career outlook? There is never any shortage of opportunities for successful sales people. In a marketplace that is always evolving, there are plenty of ways to move on through the industry.

Vehicle Maintenance and Repair

Automotive Service Technician or Mechanic

What's involved? Technicians are responsible for maintaining and repairing vehicles that are on the road. Depending on the area of specialism, they repair mechanical and electrical faults, using their own knowledge and skills, as well as computerised diagnostic equipment. As technological advances change the components of the car, technicians must have wider knowledge of their complex systems and how to repair them. Places of work vary from local service stations to dealerships, with technicians working in light, airy repair shops or poorly lit, cold and sometimes dirty workshops.

What kind of person do you need to be? As well as being mechanically minded, you need to be technically minded. You still need to get dirty in this job, so an enjoyment of hands-on work is essential. The successful technician is a logical thinker who enjoys solving problems, while having the ability to find their way around a vehicle and make it function.

What training do you need? Academic qualifications are not important, although if you're wanting to work with more sophisticated equipment, some vocational training is desirable. Courses in car repair and maintenance, electronics, physics, chemistry, English, computers, and mathematics provide a very solid foundation for work in this area, whereas an alternative for school leavers is an apprenticeship leading to an NVQ. A qualification will help you to secure better jobs. Others go straight into work and learn solely on the job, but face greater competition for work.

What is the automotive career's outlook? The number of vehicles on the road continues to grow and the need for technicians and mechanics grows apace. Growth continues in dealerships and service shops (brake repair, tyre replacement, etc.). Roles in smaller service stations and workshops are more likely to contract due to the increasing use of technology in vehicles, which requires specialist repair. To progress to more desirable jobs, technicians will need to update their training in order to be abreast of an evolving marketplace.

Automotive body repairers

What's involved? Body repairers - or panel beaters - undertake the repair of damaged motor vehicle bodywork. Using specialist equipment, they restore the panel to its original shape, or they replace panels that are too badly damaged to repair. Panels need to be painted or repainted. Having secured the bodywork, they ensure that all parts, such as handles and lights, are in position and work properly. Panel beaters may work in dedicated shops or within general repair workshops.

What kind of person do you need to be? You need to be ready to work hard, as this work can be physically demanding and noisy. You need to have a good spatial awareness, with an awareness of shape and form. Manual dexterity is important, as is good eye to hand co-ordination. A desire to work to high standards is important. The reward is satisfying end results.

What training do you need? A good basic education will always help you, although it isn't essential. Apprenticeships and vocational courses will give you a head start with hands-on skills.

What is the career outlook? Vehicles will always crash or hit immovable objects, so there is always going to be a call for panel beaters. This means that you should always know job security. It's possible to specialise, perhaps in structural repair or painting and refinishing. Those with good management skills often go on to open their own workshops.

Parts Jobs

What's involved? Vehicles are, of course, constructed out of thousands of parts. Many of these aren't standard - in other words, they fit only one model or brand of car. With so many brands of cars of different ages being repaired every day, there are millions of parts being ordered, sold and delivered throughout the country. The vehicle parts specialist is responsible for doing this, while knowing what they hold in stock, where to source parts they don't have in stock, and which parts are right for which vehicle of a particular year of manufacture. Efficiency and excellent customer service are everything if this is to all happen smoothly.

What kind of person do you need to be? You need, of course, to love vehicles and be interested in how they work. To do well in the parts field, you need to enjoy being busy, having a lot of contact with people, and working under time pressure. All this you have to be able to do without loss of accuracy. This means that your technical knowledge must extend to good keyboarding skills and having good computer skills are a bonus.

What training do you need? Knowing about vehicles is only the start. You can gain employment straight from school, but you'll do better if you find additional training through community college or tertiary college. You can also find apprenticeships.

What is the career outlook? Jobs will always be plentiful, as cars will always need replacement parts. After some years gaining experience, you may wish to work in an independent repair shop or a dealership, where you can specialise your skills. Other options include corporate fleets or retail parts stores. If you're genuinely knowledgeable and don't rely on the computer for every answer, you are always going to be in demand.

Leasing Industry Positions

Lease or Hire Sales

What's involved? The vehicle leasing and hire industry is huge. You are surely familiar with vehicle hire offices at airports and in local cities and towns, but the largest part of the industry is that servicing the vehicular needs of businesses. Fleet management companies lease out and manage the fleets incorporating hundreds of thousands of vehicles in Europe. From daily rental to long term leasing, this is a huge customer service and finance industry in its own right.

What kind of person do you need to be? You need a range of aptitudes to work successful in vehicle rentals and sales. First and foremost, you need good customer service abilities. The element of sales is unavoidable, as you'll be working in a competitive industry where you'll need to negotiate deals. Depending on the size of the business you'd work for, you could be responding to requests for vehicles, providing rental quotes, delivering vehicles in person or organising maintenance work for vehicles already leased. You need to be able to do all of this to a high professional standard in a fast-paced and sometimes unpredictable environment.

What training do you need? You can gain jobs straight from school, but it's always better to have some customer service experience through part-time or Saturday jobs. Good communication and numeracy skills are desirable, so it's worth ensuring you leave school with passes in English and Mathematics. You need to be consistently energetic and hardworking. Larger lease and vehicle rental companies will provide their own in-house training. You can improve your chances of gaining desirable jobs with NVQs gained after leaving school or an apprenticeship. A clean driver's license is essential.

What is the career outlook? You can progress rapidly in bigger organisations that have large sales teams. Performance is everything and your sales results will determine how you progress, both in your current company and with others, should you see a promotional move.

Industry-wide Positions

Management jobs

At the heart of every successful business you'll find solid management and leadership. Every company needs someone with the ability to make plans and lead their workforce into a prosperous future. If you think you have the skills and character to work under pressure, get the most out of people and do what's needed day-to-day to make a success of your company, then a career in management is for you.

Automotive Apprenticeships

In the UK, apprenticeships are available in the following areas. Individual apprenticeships within these categories vary enormously, so it's worth doing a careful search on the websites set up to list openings. You have to apply and competition can be strong, but for those who gain a place, it's a good opportunity to be paid while learning through study and hands-on experience. Websites are listed at the end of this article.

Apprenticeships lead to a combination of the following formally recognised qualifications.

Diplomas are an alternative to GCSEs, being more work-based and vocational.

These qualifications are awarded by these bodies: ASDAN, ABC Awards, City & Guilds, OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations), IMI Awards (IMI Awards Ltd) , LCCI Examinations Board (LCCIEB), SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority), Chartered Management Institute, and Edexcel.

More Information

These websites provide more information on careers in the automotive industry. There are many more, so run your own searches.

Job Sites for Automotive Jobs


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