By Jim Hagerty
While Detroit automakers continue to shift gears in a major overhaul toward more energy-efficient products, significant expansions are being made to workforces, spokesmen said last week.
According to employment reps in Detroit, the industry is preparing for hundreds or more jobs in engineering, finance and design. Most of the positions, however, will go to contract workers, as Chrysler, Ford and General Motors continue to feel out the impact of the nation’s recovery from a more than three-year recession.
Auto industry contract jobs are structured like standard temp-to-hire slots, which is proving positive for automakers and workers, experienced professionals not dependent upon corporate compensation packages to make ends meet.
As of Friday, Feb. 4, more contract positions were available than staffed jobs, leaving a hole that, on its face, may not be filled anytime soon. Who could be squeezed out for much of 2011, numbers show, are young, inexperienced workers fresh out of school looking for breaks. However, the back doors are starting to open for the sector as private firms with auto industry contracts are expected to increase staff to accommodate a growing need.
Ten years ago, independent contractors were associated with those who couldn’t get hired for “real jobs” in Detroit, where Big Three staffs were fat, comfortable and well paid. Contractors lived largely off the crumbs.
In November 2010, the percentage of Michigan’s contract workers spiked by 6.5 percent, as many took jobs that, only a few years ago, paid tens of thousands more on the salaried corporate side of the fence.
On the positive side, contractor gigs are steady and often come with freedoms of expanding client bases and penning long-term contracts that can last for several months to a few years.
Chrysler increased its contract employee base by more than 145 percent last year. As of Jan. 1, 2011, the once debt-ridden and nearly left-for-dead automaker was paying approximately 2,100 contractors to do jobs—helping it stay profitable and competitive after it emerged from bankruptcy and marriage to Fiat.
Temporary job agencies are also making hay while the sun shines. Kelly Services, a Troy-based staffing firm, reported a more-than-$260 million profit, after falling into the red by $100 million at the end of 2009. A $5 billion 2010—attributed mostly to placing independent contractors with Detroit automakers—helped keep its motor running strong.
As of December 2010, temporary workers represented almost 2 percent of the U.S. workforce.