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China’s electric-car boom is fueling a war for talent

China’s EV boom is also fueling a jobs boom, and a war for talent.

I recently caught up with two friends who are both joining Chinese electric-vehicle makers from foreign firms — lured by the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing, and fat paychecks.

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That in itself is a big change from years past, when a job at a foreign-owned automaker was seen as more prestigious and better paid than domestic firms, especially as homegrown EV makers like Nio teetered on the brink of collapse in their start-up phase.

But with demand surging — EV sales are forecast to more than double to 3 million units this year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers — and the likes of Nio and Xpeng on firmer footing, joining a Chinese automaker is now seen as a good career move.

The number of jobs in the new-energy vehicle sector surged 95% in the first half of 2021 from a year earlier, and the average salary jumped almost 10% according to recruitment firm Liepin. Experts on artificial intelligence, autonomous driving and smart-cockpit design are most in demand.

An offer letter circulating on Chinese social media from electronics titan Xiaomi — which is pouring $10 billion into plans to start making EVs, and recently bought self-driving startup Deepmotion — highlights what the jobs scene looks like for people with the right skills.

A snapshot of the employment contract for a senior engineer in the company’s auto unit shows an annual salary of 600 000 yuan ($93,600) — more than five times China’s average income — and about 1 million yuan in stock options. While a Xiaomi spokesman declined to comment on the figures, it seems in line with what I’ve heard from my friends who have changed jobs.

One, a woman in her 40s, joined a Chinese EV maker earlier this year after more than a decade at a US automaker, where she thought she would have worked until retirement. Along with the better pay and stock options, being part of a more dynamic workplace culture and helping build a successful future for the company are providing plenty of job satisfaction, even with the extra overtime she’s been pulling, she told me.

Another, a guy in his late 20s who is joining an established Chinese carmaker, doubled his pay when he made the switch. While initially reluctant to change jobs, he was also persuaded by the increased responsibilities and bigger potential the new role brings.

The change is also occurring in the C-suite. Alain Visser, a veteran of General Motors and Ford is now running Lynk & Co., which is trying to upend the traditional model of car ownership with a subscription service.

Asked about the main difference between his old jobs and his new role at the unit of Chinese auto giant Geely, Visser said it was the pace of change, and how quickly things get done.

“I dare to say, with all respect for Ford and General Motors, it was all very much the same,” he said. “The big difference at Geely for me is speed. It’s incredible.”

“The drive to make things happen, I have never seen. What it takes months to decide at other car companies I have worked for takes days at Geely. I think the speed here is insane. I don’t think I could ever go back to my previous career,” Visser said.

For my friends, the feeling is the same — adding a brain drain as yet another threat traditional automakers are facing as the shift to an electric driving future powers ahead.

© 2021 Bloomberg

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