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EV boom triggers battle for talent in automotive sector

Leading Indian automakers are introducing new EV models, and startups are coming up with innovative electric mobility solutions, even as the government works to reduce carbon emissions.
Leading Indian automakers are introducing new EV models, and startups are coming up with innovative electric mobility solutions, even as the government works to reduce carbon emissions.

Summary

Industry executives said that companies are trying to attract and retain professionals skilled in battery management systems, fuel cells and core engineering with pay hikes, retention bonuses and counter-offers

NEW DELHI , MUMBAI : The race to dominate the electric vehicle (EV) market has triggered a dash for talent, as automakers and others in the ecosystem seek out experienced professionals to develop capabilities in green mobility.

Industry executives said that companies are trying to attract and retain professionals skilled in battery management systems, fuel cells and core engineering with pay hikes, retention bonuses and counter-offers. Leading Indian automakers are introducing new EV models, and startups are coming up with innovative electric mobility solutions, even as the government works to reduce carbon emissions.

“Firms are willing to offer up to a 50% salary increase to top talent, but there is a 30-50% dropout rate because retention measures that firms take are robust," said Amol Gangaramany, a partner at ABC Consultants specializing in the automotive practice.

“In the field of electrification, there are three critical dimensions: batteries, motors and high-voltage systems. Additionally, cell chemistry, module architecture and battery pack architecture play essential roles. Talent in these areas is scarce, so we have to invest in training and developing it," said R. Velusamy, president of global product development at Mahindra & Mahindra. “We also engage international technical consultancies to recruit overseas candidates who are then trained for the Indian market. Valuable talent with international experience is also available in India, as many international companies have R&D centres in Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad," he added.

Headhunters said they are witnessing a surge in demand as automakers diversify their EV product lines. Technical talent from South Korea, Japan, the US, and Europe is being recruited, with salaries sometimes crossing the million-dollar mark.

Velusamy said talent in the EV sector is seeking high-impact roles and wants to associate with Indian OEMs, which are investing considerably in building these capabilities. Mahindra & Mahindra has bolstered its talent acquisition and retention efforts by establishing a motor and battery testing unit and consolidating its MRV (Mahindra Research Valley) and Mahindra SUV Proving Track for EV development under one umbrella. “We are training our IC engineers for EV calibrations. But when it comes to designing EV components, you need experienced people from electrochemistry and electrical architecture backgrounds, and we need to recruit them externally," he added.

The alternative fuel sector faces a talent shortage because of niche skill sets that are relatively new to the market. Automakers are now hiring from allied sectors such as electronic management solutions, industry experts said.

Meanwhile, smaller firms are offering meaty stock option plans to compete with larger rivals, who have the advantage of in-house R&D centres.

A Tata Motors spokesperson said finding “experienced talent in auto electric and electronics is a challenge with limited availability compared with demand, resulting in higher attrition. Connected, Electric, Shared and Safe (CESS) are the four technology trends driving the growth of the automotive industry, and hence, there is substantial demand for people with these skill sets. At Tata Motors, we are reorienting and reskilling our workforce of mostly mechanical engineers with tailor-made L&D (learning and development) programmes."

“The talent density is weak, and demand is very high. The way an EV is made and sold in a two-wheeler market is very different from a four-wheeler," Gangaramany said.

“While a job change in the auto sector gets hikes of 25%, if the candidate has worked in the EV business, it can be up to 50%," said Alok Kumar, president of Manpower India. He said firms are paying two-three month joining bonuses, and counter offers are common.

Recruiters say middle management positions in the 10 lakh- 35 lakh salary range are the most sought-after. Those with expertise in maintaining charging stations, EV batteries and expertise in mechanical and electrical engineering are also in high demand.

Ather Energy, an electric two-wheeler start-up with a nearly 1,000-member R&D team, says the key is to “build talent", instead of “buying it". “What we are building is quite unique and such a product at this level has never been built before," Sunitha Lal, chief human resources officer, Ather Energy, said. There is a dearth of talent that appreciates interdisciplinary skills. It is vital to find talent that has their “foundational basics" right, keeping innovation at the forefront", Lal said.

“Traditional capabilities (in the auto sector) around sheet metals, plastics, electricals/electronics need to be upgraded for new platforms, especially purely new design born-EVs. In addition, there will be new engineering skills needed for software, battery, connected tech, etc., where building capacity in-house and organically will be difficult. It may be best to partner with external ecosystem partners who can help jumpstart operations and allow flexibility of scale," said Rahul Mishra, a partner at consultant Kearney.

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