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Holden engineering staff halved this year

Student gong: Holden executive director of engineering Brett Vivian (right) presenting the top student award at the Mobility Engineering Excellence Awards to Tyler Plowright.

GM's local engineering staff down to fewer than 300 by the end of the year

3 Nov 2014

GM Holden’s engineering department will shrink by more than half by the end of 2014, from 650 to fewer than 300 people, in the lead up to the end of local production of the Cruze and Commodore/Caprice in 2017.

Holden executive director of engineering Brett Vivian confirmed the reduction to staff numbers and added that it will shrink even further over the next two years.

While many staff have transferred to offshore GM operations, 2014 has been a sad time at Fishermans Bend, he told the Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia in Melbourne.

“We’ve had quite a lot of engineers look at work, still within General Motors, in North America, Korea and Europe, and we’ve had a few people move, and it’s great for them,” he said before presenting awards at the SAE-A’s Mobility Engineering Excellence Awards.

“As an Australian and, maybe more importantly, as a Victorian, I’m really saddened to see that sort of engineering talent leave the country and leave the local industry.

“But I think we can be proud as an industry that we have been able to attract that talent and nurture it and work on some fabulous programs and have that talent really recognised by General Motors.

“(The company) has spent a lot of money to get these people over to Detroit or over to Russelsheim (Germany) and offer them work there.” Mr Vivian said those engineers staying in Australia were still working on international projects, even though work on local projects was drying up.

“We’ve still got 300 on the team for the next year or two. We have continued to do powertrain work, engine and transmission calibration work for the whole globe, everywhere from North America and Europe and all the bits in between,” he said.

“We’ve had a big hand in doing two car projects for China this year. One is starting manufacture shortly and another will be coming soon.

“And we have been pivotal in the upfront design of some future new architecture, leading edge stuff, for General Motors as well, which is a few years away.

“We are still getting some good work, just not as much as we had in the past,” he said.

As the head of department, Mr Vivian said the emphasis has swung away from he engineering and more to the human side of the operation in 2014.

“I went to uni and I learned about oils, equations and inverting matrices of n-dimensions, and lots of useful concepts like that.

“But none of them have been much use to me this year, I have to say. This year has really been about looking after people, helping people find new work, helping people transition into the next phase of their working lives and that’s where our effort has been.

“We’ve had a number of former employees who have been made redundant before, they have come back and spoken to us about their journey and how they went about finding new work.

“That was one of my favorite moments because it was almost like a family reunion, and it was good to get some of those people back.”

He said the staff loyalty has been so great at Holden that half the engineering staff joined straight from school and had been with the company for an average of 17 years.

Even those who joined from another company average 10 years with GM.

But Mr Vivian said there was a downside for these employees, because they have learned to speak GM’s engineering language, which is not immediately translatable in other companies.

“GMH is a great place to work. You can really develop great skills, great friendships and you get to speak your own language.

“When you go to look for new work, you have got to recognise that not everyone else speaks that language,” he said.

“You’ve got to talk in a language that really shows what your transferable skills are and that you can be useful working for someone other than General Motors.

“We’ve had a real focus on trying to get people more adept at selling themselves and really understand what their skills are and what they can contribute to the community,” he said.

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