Modern EV manufacturers are winning the talent war – how can automakers catch up?

Attracting and retaining the best software engineers has been an issue that the traditional automotive industry has wrestled with for years. As said best by a smirking Carlos Tavares, “Talent is important, you have to know how to retain it.” But it is becoming even more critical now as automakers work to transform their products into true software defined vehicles and compete with more nimble startups and Chinese automakers.

Traditional automakers encumbered by long-standing processes have more ground to cover before they can compete with startup OEMs, but they can close the gap by focusing on revamping strategies to attract, upskill and retain software talent. These companies can find valuable lessons by following a few of the hiring and development practices used by Microsoft, Google and other software giants: the Developer Ladder, the Integration Process, and the Software Culture.

The Software Ladder and the Developer Ladder

Having the right talent is a prerequisite for building successful software-centric products. EV startups have taken lessons from companies like Google by adopting the Software Ladder method to attract and develop talent. This technique uses common industry terms to clearly outline well-defined career paths for both managers and coders, thereby helping organizations identify and define crucial software positions and gaps.

Within the Software Ladder lies another tool – the Developer Ladder – which acts as a map of existing software talent that supports the upskilling of developers. As developers hone their coding skills, they can move up the ladder, and these progressions can be clearly communicated with leadership. No murky politics. No ambiguous subjectives. An objective system based upon improvement of the core skills.

Organizations can begin their Developer Ladder journey by sending out a survey to their software development team that gathers data on developers’ current roles and the tools and processes they use. This also establishes a two-way communication tool for developers to communicate their professional goals and interests.

Insights from the survey can be taken a step further to inform more detailed discussions in focus groups with participants from varying levels of the corporate structure. These meetings create an opportunity for clear communication between leadership and coders while allowing for the free flow of ideas and constructive feedback.

Equally important to the Software and Developer Ladder method is a strong communication plan to secure buy-in from those who will ultimately participate. From rollout through implementation, managers must be equipped with resources such as use cases and Q&A’s that clearly state the “what” and the “why” behind the process to build awareness, excitement and anticipation for the programs.

The Integration Process

Envorso has rich experience with both designing these surveys and administering the focus groups – and has found them to be effective.

However, before the Software and Development Ladders are rolled out broadly, software team leaders should test content, processes and messaging in pilot groups. This provides an opportunity to set expectations while spotlighting opportunities to progress within the organization and build confidence about the road ahead. These early adopters can be organizational champions of new processes and drive excitement among their peers. And the investment breeds investment; the commitment breeds commitment.

Once the initiative has been tested, the software team can begin an intensive phase of employee training through personalized learning plans. The first step of this phase is to set a baseline for each developer, using tools such as HackerEarth to evaluate their current skillset.

After developers establish a baseline, they can challenge and improve their skills through exercises like hackathons. Working in groups with similar skillsets, members of the software team and developers can work to solve real problems they might encounter in their roles. Employees can be assessed as they complete these challenges and subsequently move along the Developer Ladder accordingly.

Mirroring Software Culture

A significant factor driving traditional automakers’ struggle to bring in top software talent is the cultural differences between the tech and auto industry. By adopting a framework that is similar to those used by tech companies, automotive companies incentivize employees to expand their skillset while also creating a comfortable, familiar workplace for software engineers. Mirroring this culture will go a long way in improving automakers’ ability to secure the top talent they need to drive software innovation.

Cautionary tale: this cannot be accomplished by hiring a Senior Vice President from a Silicon Valley company and expecting them to cascade a culture to the masses. This must be a thoughtful, well-orchestrated, intentional change management effort nearer to the working level which permeates the daily environment.


To learn how Envorso can help your organization build a more effective software talent pipeline, contact us today.

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