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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 18, 2010

Wanted: More auto industry workers

USA Today

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Volkswagen, which is staffing a new plant in Tennessee, is among automakers looking for workers.

CHRIS RANK | Bloomberg News Service

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DETROIT After years of shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs, the auto industry is showing signs it may have hit bottom and is ready to hire again.

Several automakers announced "help wanted" last week at the big annual auto show here, though the numbers wouldn't begin to replace the jobs lost.

Among them: Chrysler, fresh from bankruptcy court, and Ford, hiring in Michigan. Toyota is hiring in Texas; Volkswagen is staffing a new plant in Tennessee; and Kia is hiring in Georgia.

Driving the hiring: optimism for a mild recovery in new car sales this year. U.S. new vehicle sales in 2009 were 10.4 million, the lowest since 1982. But the year finished up, and the Center for Automotive Studies predicts 2010 sales will rise to 12.4 million.

The hiring "is encouraging," said Harley Shaiken, an auto labor expert at the University of California-Berkeley. "But it also reflects how far jobs sank in the industry."

Still, he says, auto hiring could add the "psychological boost" the U.S. needs to climb out of recession.

Automaking and parts jobs fell from 1.1 million in 1999 to 561,900 in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler and of Italy's Fiat, talked here of a shortage of staff to develop future products: "We need to have engineers. We just don't have enough."