Recruiting and Cultivating for the Future
For decades now, SEMA members have expressed concern about the aging of the automotive specialty segment and the number of young enthusiasts entering the marketplace and our workforce. Addressing those concerns, SEMA has developed a number of initiatives, many of which have matured and grown. There has been expansion of the SEMA Young Executive Network (YEN), now 1,300 strong; development of a robust student program that brings 500-plus automotive students to the SEMA Show each year; and substantial support of other productive youth-oriented automotive programs, such as Hot Rodders of Tomorrow.
More recently, we’ve initiated the Gen III Innovator award to identify and recognize outstanding talent and, for the third year now, we are honoring 35 young individuals who have been recommended by their peers as outstanding examples of innovators and young leaders in our industry. You’ll find the story of this year’s under-35 honorees in this issue, and they are an impressive group. About a third of them work at SEMA-member companies or have some SEMA council affiliation, but many are young people who’ve had little or no prior relationship to the association.
Bridging to future leaders who are not yet a part of the SEMA community is a key opportunity within this program. As a group, the honorees are entrepreneurial in nature, innovative and enthusiastic. Once identified through this peer-to-peer program, we look for appropriate ways to help them succeed with their businesses, become involved in SEMA and, we hope, propel the future success of the industry.
The initiatives I’ve noted have already made a difference when it comes to attracting and integrating young people into our industry. But we are always looking for new and promising ideas.
One new initiative created by YEN came to fruition earlier this summer, when SEMA embedded 10 YEN members into the Hot Rod Power Tour. This experience gave these future leaders new insights into the industry and personal access to established industry leaders. Perhaps of greater significance, these outgoing business ambassadors spent the week meeting with young enthusiasts and speaking at vocational and technical schools to highlight our industry as an exciting, attainable career path.
I had the chance to personally witness some of those connections and conversations, and they reminded me of the many stories I’ve heard about how great icons in our industry were initially inspired by encounters with people who had already succeeded in turning their passion into careers. Our ambassadors posted blogs, made videos and tweeted their messages to create a social-media groundswell aimed at a younger generation. The project was a real success.
Another recent project is allowing us to test ways to bring promising young talent into member companies.
The Career Windows Project is an internship—with a twist. Instead of the traditional internship, where an individual might spend a summer working as an entry-level employee in a single department of a business, the Career Windows Project moves the intern through multiple departments in a short amount of time. The intern might spend two or three days in each of several different departments, such as product development, manufacturing, warehousing, customer service, shipping, marketing and administration.
This framework allows the intern to gain a broad view of various roles in a specialty automotive business in perhaps three weeks. It makes for a reasonable commitment by the host company, and the intern can see more, try out more workplace roles and assess more career choices within our industry. This kind of program also benefits the company by gaining access to strong future prospects for employment. The cost, in time and money, is minimized by the short duration of the internship, but the upside is maximized.
We recently conducted a “pilot” Career Windows Project internship here at SEMA headquarters, leading us to the conclusion that this concept—along with more traditional internships—might be something we could coordinate for the industry, matching potential host companies with prospects from the many schools and programs where young people are exploring automotive careers. It’s just one more way that SEMA may be able to help member companies connect with new talent and energy and build companies that can succeed into the future.
—Chris Kersting, SEMA President and CEO