This year’s Southern Automotive Conference in Nashville, Tennessee included a unique component, courtesy of Aerotek, a recruiting and staffing service. On Sept. 27, Aerotek sponsored SAC’s first Student Day. The importance of this initiative became obvious at SAC 2018 in Atlanta where Aerotek realized there is great potential for students to have an inside view of the fast-growing, diverse industry.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to understand and interact with potential future employers like OEMs,” says Lucas Hiler, Aerotek’s director of strategic sales for transportation. “Each will have an area of specialization whether engineering or production. We expect a diverse group of individuals seeking future employers.”
The Student Day at SAC offered students opportunities to stroll the exhibit floor interacting with the exhibitors from Tier 1 suppliers to staffing organizations, including Aerotek.
“It’s a great opportunity for interaction and networking concurrently while interacting on the exhibit floor,” he says. “We will have various presentations throughout the day, typically facilitated by the OEMs, and they can learn about plants being constructed in the region and talent strategies an OEM is implementing. “
Hiler hopes that students who attended the conference, came away with a changed perception of what an automotive job is.
“Most people think an automotive job is production or even engineering, but the automotive world is expanding into more than what it has been in the past,” Hiler says. “If you look at software development and today’s vehicles, the industry has expanded into so much more than an assembly or production job.
“Students may have a passion for software development but never realized it was possible to pursue those dreams in automotive. So many of these positions have become so specialized and specific to the industry.”
The Aerotek program provided students with a free exhibition access registration to attend the conference, specifically on Friday, Sept. 27 from 7 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Vendor categories included automotive parts manufacturers and suppliers, high-technology service providers, logistics and transportation providers, construction and design, education institutions, banking and financial institutions, staffing agencies and consultants as well as economic development agencies.
“The growth of autonomous vehicles is one of the reasons we have such an interest in developing students’ passion for the automotive field,” Hiler says. “The options in automotive are growing. These jobs just aren’t on the manufacturing floor. The diversity of positions we support are anywhere from entry level production jobs to robotics to software developers working in the research lab.”
Hiler says an important way to appeal to the future workforce in the industry is to demonstrate the array of careers and the potential for career development once they embark on that path. He points out that by the time they graduate and enter the workforce, current high school and even college students may be employed in jobs or positions that do not yet exist – that’s the pace the industry is growing and changing. Aerotek wants to be on the cusp of that change.
“As we continue to partner with our customers in the automotive industry, from small manufacturers to some of the largest, the talent acquisition challenges are the same for all companies,” Hiler says. “We look at the Southern Automotive Conference and how we are partnering with the students as the tip of the spear in sparking that interest in automotive for young people to work in careers that support the industry.”
Hiler’s work with Aerotek is primarily with the automotive industry from his San Antonio, Texas, office. He says it was in 1989 that the company established its automotive division and began partnering with many of the larger OEMs throughout the country.
“We’ve grown exponentially since then,” Hiler says. “Part of what I love about the industry is how it has evolved. When I started with Aerotek, automotive consisted of engineers and assembly workers. It involved making vehicles and production employees. Fourteen years ago, there was very little talk about autonomous vehicles, and now there are many opportunities there.”
According to Hiler automotive has found innovative ways to recruit that some industries have yet to realize – such as supporting students earning associate degrees through training as early as high school. Aerotek likes to connect with those students to give them a foot in the door with its customers.
While recruiters are usually competitive in any market, including automotive, Hiler says this partnership with SAC “isn’t about a competitive landscape. This is about Aerotek and automotive coming together in a forum and helping people find a career path. This is not about sponsoring a happy hour or putting our logo on the board, it’s truly with the intent of driving opportunity for students to get jobs.”
In 2018, as an exhibitor at the SAC, Hiler and other Aerotek executives saw firsthand the opportunities available for youth in the fast-growing automotive industry.
“One thing that was very eye opening to me when I was in attendance was the willingness of each organization at the conference – Alabama (AAMA), Georgia (GAMA), Mississippi (MAMA) and Tennessee (TAMA) – to welcome Aerotek,” Hiler says.
Every association made a point of welcoming Aerotek in what he refers to as a “southern fashion,” making a lasting impression on the way professionals in the industry conduct themselves and embrace those interested in learning more about how fast growing this sector is in the South.
“The idea for this started with Aerotek attending last year and understanding what kind of opportunity there was,” Hiler says. “We were able to see what the event was all about as an exhibitor. Our intention is to bring organizations together. As a company, whenever you look at our tagline, it says, ‘Our people are everything.’
“It’s a very bold (phrase) to use and can very easily be turned against you. But it’s a matter of bringing customers together with potential candidates or future work force. Partnering with SAC to identify this career day achieves what Aerotek wants to achieve – betterment of the potential workforce in our future. That’s our mission and has always been since the founding of our organization. This student day is a prime example of bringing great people and students together.”
Hiler, who went to work with Aerotek when he graduated from college, has always been tied to talent acquisition with the automotive industry. Headquartered in Hanover, Maryland, Aerotek dates back three decades when the company was created to place employees in the aerospace and aviation industry. Today, with 250 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, Aerotek supports all industries with 18,000 customers and 300,000 contract employees they put to work every year.
“It’s exciting to me personally to bring this to SAC because my passion is in automotive,” Hiler says. “I’m really looking forward to what this partnership will bring and the opportunity we can give these students. It could continue to pay off for them 5, 10, even 20 years from now.”