Go green or go home has become the slogan of the moment. Firms are doing everything from finding ways to decrease their carbon footprints to increasing their use of renewable energy, and the automobile industry is no exception with its foray into electric vehicles (EVs) over the last decade and half. However, the acute challenge now facing auto makers looking to go green is how to find the people to scale their growth.

As we’ve seen, electric vehicles have made significant inroads with consumers. In Q2 of 2022, US sales of electric vehicles, or EVs, had reportedly grown to 5.6% of the overall auto market - double what it was during the same period in 2021. The UK experienced a similar surge in EV sales’ share of the market, which rose from 11.6% in 2021 to 16.6% in 2022.

This rapid increase in consumer appetite has forced many top executives at established car companies to urgently reconsider their business priorities and the people pipeline needed to address them. “Leaders really need to think about their talent acquisition strategy - yesterday,” says Paul Budd, Vice President, Technology Talent Solutions, Korn Ferry.

However, with over 10 million job openings in the US alone creating a tight talent market, auto firms are having to think creatively about how to attract the right workforce - from top to bottom - in order to effectively accelerate their EV ambitions. Here are five things to consider when looking to attract top tech talent.

1 Craft an engaging culture

An automotive engineer might instantly be drawn to a long-established car company, but in the world of electric cars it’s all about software. “The real question EV firms need to be asking is, ‘if you’re a software engineer, why would you be interested in joining a car company versus one of the standard tech behemoths?’” says Budd. One answer, he says, centers around culture. Creating a new culture may feel like turning an ocean liner for legacy firms with deeply entrenched values, but their success depends on the ability to build the right messaging and convince talent that they are as cutting edge, if not more, as the Bay Area dotcoms who have overnight become their competitors in the race for talent.

A related challenge that legacy firms have to contend with is maintaining a culture of inclusivity as their workforce becomes progressively more split between manufacturing locations like Detroit and coastal tech hubs like San Francisco. By contrast, newer companies in the EV space, not tied to deep-rooted ideology and geography, have the benefit of being able to build an enticing company culture from day one.

One such firm, ECARX - which develops hardware and software solutions for EVs - does just that. With offices across the UK, China and Sweden, ECARX has created a space for top-tier technology development that’s alluring to talent precisely because it combines the appeal of a tech start-up with the stability of an established automotive company. “It’s really inspiring,” says Colleen Ryan, the company’s director of recruiting, “seeing how positively people are reacting to working with potentially paradigm-shifting technology outside of Silicon Valley, and how excited they are to play a founding role in building up a new team in the fantastic city of London.”

2 Accept that you're a tech company

Experts say leadership at traditional firms needs to radically and rapidly change their mindsets to accept that they’re no longer at the helm of car companies - they’re leading technology companies that make cars. That means creating a tech-friendly organizational framework that enables them to be nimble and react quickly to changing market forces. Because even if a firm manages to hire enough software engineers, those new hires will be checking the exits within six months if the company doesn’t live up to its hype of being an actual tech firm.

“A lack of structure and alignment results in high rates of turnover and a disengaged workforce,” says Marisa Smith, a principal at Korn Ferry’s global industrial and automotive practice. In response, some smart firms have been upskilling and reskilling their current employees away from heavy engineering skill sets toward software skills, giving workers who stick with the company a chance to develop their careers.

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3 Offer long-term career growth and development

Certain large tech companies have recently had to apologize for their yo-yo style of workforce recruitment that has been marked by phases of over-hiring followed by mass layoffs due to decreased demand. And yet in the EV space, things are still booming, thanks in large part to action from global governments. Media reports that by 2030, over half of automobiles sold in the US will be electric on account of the recent government climate spending bill. The UK has a similar political initiative that aims to cease the production of new fossil fuel dependent vehicles by 2030.

“There’s now a small window of seven years where organizations need to have a complete rethink of their manufacturing structure,” says Budd. The urgency to adapt to new government mandates is a bonus for EV firm recruiters who can guarantee a long-term space for new hires to grow and develop over time in a field that’s only trending upwards for the foreseeable future. Given the current uncertainty caused by the downturn, this is exactly the kind of security that professionals are looking for, and which firms should be leveraging.

4 Get creative with compensation

Typically cash rich, legacy car companies can afford to offer competitive pay packages, but experts say that’s no longer enough in the post-pandemic era where job candidates seek a better work-life balance too. “People just aren’t going to be attracted by a three shift, clock-in, clock-out type of policy,” says Budd.

There’s also the additional challenge in the EV space of balancing the pay scales of longstanding automotive engineers with newly acquired software engineers, who typically command higher salaries. Offering four-day workweeks or flexible hours can go a long way in mitigating tensions - while also decreasing burnout and increasing retention. Equity-based compensation can be another appealing incentive, particularly from startups looking to grow rapidly over the next few years.

Newer firms should also think of compensation as the unique opportunity that provides professionals looking to switch to an entirely different industry with something more hands-on and entrepreneurial. ECARX’s Ryan, for example, says she recently brought one of their executives on from a larger firm. “He was really attracted by the idea of pioneering a new team,” she says.

5 Build and communicate purpose

Especially for the workforce currently graduating from high school and university, green energy firms can provide the purpose that generation requires as motivation to join a company. “We’re seeing that the younger generation are driven much more by purpose than just money and status,” says Budd.

The historically high turnout of Gen Z voters in the recent US midterm elections ended up preventing significant losses on the political left, and is evidence that this generation is deeply committed to social issues. This talent pool is hungry for exactly the kind of opportunities that green energy firms can offer, so the task now is for organizations to effectively communicate a sense of mission – and communicating that joining them could provide both the ability to work with best-in-class technology and literally save the planet from the looming threat of climate change.

Looking to attract and engage top talent in the green energy sector? Contact our team here.

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