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Calling all ‘codaholics’: Automakers vie for tech talent


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Five years ago, auto engineers were willing to accept starting salaries between $50,000 and $45,000, said Matt LePage, lead technical recruiter for GTA Staffing, a Dearborn, Michigan-based firm focused on the auto industry.

Now, starting annual salaries can be two-thirds higher, ranging from between $65,000 and $75,000 or even higher, according to LePage and others including staffing firms and university officials.

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"We do recognize that the cost of living is very different here than in the West Coast," said Felicia Fields, Ford’s vice president of human resources. "So we’re not trying to match that. We’re paying competitively for this area, and that’s where the vast majority of these jobs are."

In many ways, the explosive growth in Silicon Valley today mirrors the boom in Detroit about a hundred years ago when Henry Ford more than doubled worker wages to $5 a day. In recent years, however, the U.S. auto industry and Detroit itself have been marred by job losses and diminished prospects.

Automakers are redoubling their recruiting efforts to combat that image, by showing how they have changed since the 2009 economic crisis that pushed GM and Chrysler Group LLC into bankruptcy.

Pitching the Detroit area as a desirable place to live has also been a perennial challenge, one that grew a little tougher after the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection last week.

Fields said Ford recruiters are told to address those issues head-on, while also promoting the positive elements of the region, such as the burgeoning development downtown, sports teams and Michigan’s natural resources.

"The incredible competition for technical people in so many companies and so many industries, it is much more difficult," she said. "We can’t just pick a number and find all the candidates. We have to work much harder."

Additional reporting by Ben Klayman and Joseph Lichterman in Detroit and Timothy McLaughlin in Boston.




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