Opportunity on the Horizon for GM’s Displaced Auto Workers

On Monday, GM announced it would cut 14,000 workers from its payroll by next year amid slowing sales, and to double down on its SUV, autonomous, and electric vehicle lines, according to GM’s statement.

More than half of the layoffs–about 8,000–are expected to be white-collar workers, many of whom will likely receive buyouts and severance packages. Thousands of blue-collar jobs will also be slashed–about 3,600–at several assembly and transmission manufacturing plants located in Detroit, MI, Lordstown, OH, and Baltimore, MD.

While the bad news has sparked heated political debate over the 2008 bailouts, and drawn ire from the United Auto Workers Union, we’re more concerned with what the displaced workers will do next.

Fortunately, we are in the midst of one of the best job markets in half a century.

Thanks to widespread labor shortages in industries with employers who value many of the skills auto workers already have, GM’s expendables should have little trouble finding their next opportunity. Our research shows they may even be fit to fill certain mid-skill roles working with the very technology that’s kicked them off the assembly line.  

Blue Collar Boomtowns

To determine which roles the auto workers should consider, we analyzed skill requirements listed in over four million active job postings on ZipRecruiter right now. First, we determined the top 10 skills most valued by employers in the auto industry, then we compared those skills to the top 10 skill requirements listed in active job postings from every industry represented in our marketplace.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the manufacturing industry provides the greatest opportunity for auto workers to make a career change. Among the top 10 skill requirements for both the auto and manufacturing industries, manufacturing jobs share five skills in common with auto industry jobs. Construction isn’t far behind, sharing four of the top 10 skills for auto workers.

Overall, each of the job markets in the affected areas of Detroit, MI, Lordstown (Youngstown MSA), and Baltimore, MD are quite strong. The ZipRecruiter Opportunity Index, which measures the number of active job openings to applicants, shows there’s about one job opening for each applicant in Detroit and Lordstown, and one job opening for every two applicants in Baltimore as of November.

Construction industry opportunity in Lordstown and Detroit is even higher, with more job openings than applicants to fill them. Despite the layoffs, employers in the automotive industry are still hiring in each metro, with between two and three applicants competing for each available job.

MetroConstruction OpportunityManufacturing OpportunityAutomotive Opportunity
Lordstown, OH1.4 jobs per applicant0.7 jobs per applicant0.5 jobs per applicant
Detroit/Warren, MI1.1 jobs per applicant0.3 jobs per applicant0.6 jobs per applicant
Baltimore, MD0.5 jobs per applicant0.3 jobs per applicant0.3 jobs per applicant

Autonomous Vehicle Opportunity for Assembly Line Workers

Despite the fact that the auto industry is undergoing serious technological disruption, our data show there are still many opportunities where today’s auto workers can apply their skills in the jobs of the future.

Yes, the majority of autonomous vehicle job openings are for software and electrical engineers. After all, even GM’s spokespeople made a point to clarify they are still hiring software engineers and individuals experienced in the autonomous vehicle arena. However, there are also opportunities for entry-level and mid-skill workers in a few AV jobs showing incredible growth on ZipRecruiter.

These are the jobs where auto worker skills match up:

    • Customer Success Field Representative — postings up 450% compared to 2017.
    • Field Service Technician — postings up 80% over 2017.
    • Vehicle Inspector — postings up 300% over 2017.

Since most autonomous vehicle jobs are posted in the technology industry, we also compared the number of tech jobs that share auto worker skill requirements.

Top Auto Industry SkillsActive Auto Industry Jobs Requiring SkillActive Tech Jobs Requiring Skill
Communication Skills10,000+100,000+
Technical Skills10,000+100,000+
Troubleshooting10,000+30,000 - 99,999
Customer Service10,000+30,000 - 99,999
Detail Oriented10,000+30,000 - 99,999
Documentation1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
MS Office1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
Collaboration1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
Analysis1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
Written Communication1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
Innovation1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
Computer Literacy1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
Consulting Experience1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999
Vendor Management1,000 - 9,99930,000 - 99,999

While the GM layoffs are unfortunate, it’s important to keep two key facts in mind. They are not the result of a softening economy or downturn in the auto industry, and the workers who find themselves holding the proverbial pink slip have many desirable skills employers are fighting over in today’s job seeker’s market.


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Jeffery Marino

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Jeffery Marino is a Los Angeles-based writer who previously covered emerging job market trends using proprietary ZipRecruiter data.

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