China’s electric vehicle makers woo engineers, workers as they scramble for talent to build next-generation cars amid skills shortage

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China’s electric vehicle makers woo engineers, workers as they scramble for talent to build next-generation cars amid skills shortage

A skills shortage in mainland China’s smart electric vehicle (EV) industry is proving a boon to engineers, workers and even back office staff who are being wooed by carmakers seeking a larger slice of the country’s booming market.

Massive amounts of fundraising by leading EV start-ups and an aggressive foray by technology giants and conventional carmakers into developing new electric models have triggered fierce competition for talent. Some candidates are getting multiple offers from different employers, and the promise of a hefty pay rise of up to 50 per cent.

“(A shift in the) supply-demand balance occurred in the second half of 2020 when professionals in the automotive industry were becoming rare assets in the job market,” said Hong Lingyun, a senior executive with recruitment services firm Joinlink Consulting. “High-calibre engineers are in severe short supply now that a raft of powerful players have landed in the EV market.”

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China’s electric car market is proving an investment magnet for the country’s top technology companies. Telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies, smartphone maker Xiaomi, search engine Baidu and drone maker DJI have all jumped on the bandwagon as the country’s motorists increasingly make the switch from conventional to electric cars.

Home appliance giant Midea is also expected to make inroads into the EV segment following its acquisition of Hiconics Eco-energy Technology, a car component supplier, in March.

A drastic transition of the car industry from the traditional combustion engine to electrification, autonomous driving and digital connectivity in recent years has drawn multibillion-dollar investments in the development of new models, construction of production facilities and establishment of sales teams.

In 2019, Tesla, the global leader in the field, began building its US$2 billion Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai. The facility delivered nearly 140,000 Model 3s last year, making it the runaway leader in China’s premium EV segment.

It is competing against Chinese rivals NIO, Xpeng and Li Auto, to lure talent specialising in engineering and electronics.

According to Zhipin.com, a white-collar recruitment website, the average monthly salary offered to candidates by Tesla and its Chinese rivals has hit 15,367 yuan (US$2,410) this year, a jump of 21.6 per cent from the same period in 2020.

They are facing a big challenge from technology titans that are either building their own teams to assemble intelligent EVs or providing components or solutions to automotive firms.

Two automotive industry engineers who declined to be identified said they have received multiple job offers from different companies including the Chinese Tesla rivals and conventional vehicle assemblers.

“The skills shortage is a result of the investment spree in the EV industry and it is set to persist for several years,” said David Zhang, an analyst with the research centre for automobile industry innovation at the North China University of Technology. “All the players are standing in the whirlwind and they are looking to fly high with the influx of capital.”

Paul Gong, an analyst at UBS, said fundraising that had beefed up the carmakers’ financial strength had enabled them to grant generous pay perks to employees they desperately needed in their development and production teams.

Worldwide, complete electrification of the industry would cost more than US$2.5 trillion of investment, Bank of America analysts said in a research report earlier this year.

China’s three main Tesla challengers, all listed in New York, have raised more than US$20 billion between them since the beginning of 2020, according to tech portal ikanchai.com.

Shares of NIO surged 11-fold in the past 12 months, giving the six-year-old carmaker US$63.8 billion in market value, more than Ford Motor’s capitalisation.

William Li Bin, founder and chief executive of NIO, told reporters in a press conference early this month that some of the company’s engineers were offered a 50 per cent pay rise by its domestic rivals to jump ship.

“It showed that our employee and technological strength are highly recognised by industry peers,” he said. “A 50 per cent pay rise on top of the salary we offered is a large sum of money indeed.”

Local media reported that smart EV makers were offering an annual pay package of 2 million yuan to high-skilled autonomous driving researchers.

The size of China’s EV market is expected to surge by nearly six-fold to sales of 6.6 million units in 2025, compared to 1.17 million vehicles last year, according to UBS.

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