Colin-on-Cars looks at the automotive job market of the future

The dreams we had as kids, as the Post War generations, about flying cars, artificial intelligence – even though we had no idea that was what it would be called – ‘Dick Tracy’ watches and space travel are all part of the reality in which we now live.

A period of unprecedented disruption has certainly made everyone acutely aware of the changing job market and its challenges and, for the optimists, a chance to seek out the opportunities and gaps in the automated world.

A report titled Workforce of the Future, The Competing Forces Shaping 2030  helps anchor the workplace narrative. Compiled by a team from PwC and the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation in Oxford, it conducted a survey of more than 10 000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US, with many of the trends and responses applicable to South Africa.

We are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Automation and ‘thinking machines’ are replacing human tasks and jobs, changing the skills that organisations are looking for in their people.

These momentous changes raise huge organisational, talent and HR challenges – at a time when business leaders are already wrestling with unprecedented risks, disruption and societal upheaval. It is therefore imperative to understand how humans and machines might collaborate to deliver a corporate purpose.

This collective synergy in the digital value chain is evident within Ford Motor Ccompany of SA’s (FMCSA) social media division, explains Social Media Lead Londeka Mkhize.

“My current job title didn’t exist in 2008 when I signed up for Twitter as a first-year student in varsity. At the time social media was just where one went to have fun and post pictures of friends. Over the years though this role and similar roles to it have become very important to any business from the community manager, data analyst, strategist, graphic designer, UX/UI designer and animator – they are all involved to make social media work for a brand. Social media allows us to meet the customers where they are and understand their needs ahead of time with a targeted brand experience.”

According to a report on e-mobility by Modis, a technology consultancy company that operates in various fields of innovation, including the automotive industry, electric mobility was a reflection that affected a quarter of companies in the sector just three years ago. Today, however, this is a strategic experiment that will characterise 65% of the sector over the next three years. There are even those who theorise within 10 years at most, the roads will be travelled mainly by self-driving vehicles. And rather than owned, people will prefer to use them in pools, riding the wave of today’s car sharing.

E-mobility will definitely have a disruptive impact in the future: companies will have to put resources into research and innovation with a focus on data security and V2X connectivity

Dario Conigliaro, Modis Technical Manager, says: “With the advent of self-driving and electric cars, the new frontiers will be sustained, more than on mechanics, on the acquisition of new technologies and on the development of the necessary software to allow the cars to become more and more not only means of transport, but also an opportunity to spend time on entertainment (no longer having to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road).

According to Modis, these new professions require skills that are rare today, which the market is ready to exploit. New professionals will be needed, in particular app developers and artificial intelligence specialists to allow the creation of an entire infotainment offer (audio, communications, entertainment services and satellite navigation) within the passenger compartment.

And, of course, computer security experts will also be needed, due to the large amount of data that we will send by car (which will be constantly connected to the network). According to industry insiders, software will be the driving force behind the largest revenue stream.

“Surely e-mobility will have a disruptive impact in the future, companies will have to put resources into research and innovation with a focus on data security and V2X connectivity,” Conigliaro adds.

The PwC report goes on to say the current world functions under a level of Assisted Intelligence which improves what people and organisations are already doing. Ford’s SYNC3 with Navigation system, fitted to many of its models, is a bona fide example of Assisted Intelligence. So is the Semi-Automatic Parallel Park Assist (SAPPA) available in the Ranger Wildtrak, which uses ultrasonic sensors to search for parking spaces that are big enough to park the vehicle and even helps drivers perform parallel parking manoeuvres when a suitable spot is found.

This is a precursor to Augmented Intelligence which helps people and organisations to do things they couldn’t otherwise do, such as ride sharing apps which will have a profound effect on the entire mobility model. Further to that, Ford is engineering cars for the future with Autonomous Intelligence where self-driving Fords will come into widespread use.

Some optimists believe AI could create a world where human abilities are amplified as machines help mankind process, analyse, and evaluate the abundance of data that creates today’s world, allowing humans to spend more time engaged in high-level thinking, creativity, and decision-making. In the coming years uniquely human traits – emotional intelligence, creativity, persuasion, innovation – will become more valuable.

This is an area where Ford’s Customer Experience (CX), led by Maja Smith rings true. 

“Customer experience has come into its own in the last few years. Now it exists as a separate discipline and I do not think any other OEM in South Africa does CX like Ford. At Ford, CX is not just Customer Service, or CRM. Under evolving leadership, CX has become cross-departmental and cross functional. The purpose of CX at Ford is to figure out where the main customer pain points are and to resolve them. That means breaking down barriers and redefining the way we’ve always done things. We use CX to think holistically from a customer’s point of view and ensure that over time we deliver a better experience. It’s not about a sexy new sales or CRM tool – it is about getting the basics right and bringing previously siloed teams together to deliver those things that really matter to our customers.”

According to Ken Kelzer, GM’s Global VP of Vehicle Components and Subsystems, many of the auto industry jobs for which demand will increase over the next several years will be focused on integrating consumer electronics – tablets, touchscreens, mobile technology – into vehicles.

“What we have to do is go from consumer electrics into vehicle electronics,” says Kelzer. “If you think about a TV or a radio at home, it sits on a countertop. You put that into a vehicle, you have to transform it into a vehicle environment. Many times that means it’s got to hang out at minus -30 on our dash in the hills of Arizona, or out in the parking lot at minus -20. You have to transform the electronics into what a vehicle can handle.”

As a result, hiring is beginning to favor the professionals with skills in electrical, versus mechanical, engineering.

“If you look at our hiring statistics,” says Kelzer, “15 years ago it was by far mostly mechanical engineers, now you’re seeing that change significantly to the electrical side.”

PwC identifies several megatrends that provide context for the future world; the economic shifts that are redistributing power, wealth, competition and opportunity around the globe. How humans respond to these challenges and opportunities will determine the worlds in which the future of work plays out.

These five megatrends which will help shape the automotive world, include technological breakthroughs, demographic shifts, rapid urbanisation, shifts in global economic power and resource scarcity and climate change. It is known that all of these will change, but anticipating and adapting to the speed will yield the competitive advantage.

Amid all the uncertainty the seeds of success, in automotive as well as other industries, will ultimately be the individual’s responsibility. The underlying message is that this is less about technological innovation and more about the manner in which humans decide to use that technology.

In the emerging world those workers with problem solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills – skills that automation cannot yet crack – will become increasingly valuable. To tower above, people will need not only to adapt to organisational change but be willing to acquire new skills and experiences throughout their lifetime, to try new tasks and even to rethink and retrain mid-career.

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