Autonomous And Human: HR Is The Killer App

Ellen Sasson

The automotive industry is like every other industry, with the Internet running through it and rewriting the rules for how business gets done. One of the most exciting changes is that the industry no longer sees its mission as making cars. Its job is now moving people, goods, and materials. As a result, every aspect of the business is changing former product companies into “mobility” companies. Human talent linked to consumer wants and needs is probably the most significant driver of change affecting automakers.

Expanding beyond manufacturing expertise

Traditional automotive companies have effectively mastered manufacturing. The top Japanese, German, American, and Korean companies have automated so much of their manufacturing operations that they need dramatically fewer assembly line workers. In this new era of mobility, the real demand is for the creative thinkers who can help invent and build responsive business models. Companies need the talent that can envision new approaches to vehicle subscriptions, ride sharing, leasing, last-mile delivery, autonomous fleets … the list of potential business models changes virtually every day. The type of people who show up to work every morning at an auto company – or any of the new breed of companies involved in the transition from manufacturing to mobility – need to have radically different skill sets than their predecessors of just 10 or 15 years ago.

Winning the war for talent

Not surprisingly, the people with the right skills for this dynamic new environment are relatively rare. In fact, research from Technische Universität München indicates that an estimated 64% of people admit that they don’t currently have the skills needed for digital transformation. As a result, the mobility industry finds itself in an ongoing competition for talent. It’s not just traditional OEMs like BMW, Volkswagen, Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler trying to outdo one another for the best and brightest. They’re competing with new players like Tesla. They’re competing with Chinese startups. They’re competing with companies like Uber and Lyft who don’t even manufacture anything.

Because companies cannot always find all the talent they need and don’t have the time to nurture those skills within their existing workforce, they’re partnering more and learning to share resources with other companies. This is a major change for the auto industry, but it’s nothing new for Silicon Valley startups where this type of collaboration is the norm.

Adopting a startup mindset for better employee engagement

In fact, traditional automotive manufacturers are finding that they have to think and act like startups in a lot of ways to stay competitive – but especially in the way they manage people. In essence, they’re dealing with a culture clash. On the one hand, they have workers who are used to thinking of their role as a job for life, where the measure of success is steadily increasing pay and benefits. On the other, they’re dealing with a millennial workforce that averages a much shorter tenure in a position and places a high value on a rich and rewarding employee experience. These companies can’t expect one segment of its workforce to adopt the values and culture of the other. They have to address the needs of both. It’s a tricky balance to strike for mobility chief human resource officers (CHROs).

In many ways, this industry-wide shift toward mobility is about providing great experiences to the consumer – engaging them, removing the barriers that keep them from getting what they want, and personalizing each interaction. Mobility companies are finding they need to apply this same mindset to their employees. They’ve discovered that the relationship between good employee experiences and good customer/consumer experiences is just as important in mobility as it is in the retail and service sectors.

The good news for the mobility industry is that the smartest, most talented people tend to gravitate toward the most dynamic, interesting sectors where they can have the biggest impact. That’s exactly what mobility provides.

I get the chance to speak regularly with CHROs here in Detroit, and they’re well aware that their companies are undergoing a tectonic shift in their approach to HR. It’s a century-old industry that is becoming more like a startup sector each day. It’s drawing a diverse mix of highly skilled, highly creative, highly demanding workers who are asking more from the companies that employ them. And it’s one industry segment where we can safely say that the future of work is already here.

SAPPHIRE NOW provides an immense opportunity to learn from SAP and industry experts. Follow @SAPAutomotive to get the scoop on everything automotive at SAPPHIRE, May 7-9 in Orlando, Fla.


Ellen Sasson

About Ellen Sasson

Ellen Sasson is an experienced automotive industry leader and thinker. She’s spent more than 20 years working with automotive suppliers, dealer groups, and automakers as they continue to refine their business models. Mobility and Cities is the new frontier and Ellen is on the front lines working with both startups and traditional businesses on behalf of SAP and SAP.IO. Her background is software and services – from Accenture to IBM to SAP to Microsoft and Salesforce and back to SAP – Ellen grew up in software and auto.