Autonomous and Electrification of Cars Top Interests for Students

General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, speaking with EcoCAR students at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan. General Motors recruits students who are looking for careers in automotive, autonomous and mobility areas from the EcoCAR competition. (PRNewsfoto/EcoCAR)

EcoCAR, the premier collegiate engineering competition, surveyed its students to gain an inside look at what this highly sought-after talent desires with career placement.

Commissioned by The EcoCAR Mobility Challenge – and in partnership with KRC Research, the study is based on the online responses of 454 EcoCAR participants from 16 universities across the United States and Canada. The survey’s objective was threefold: to learn what candidates are looking for in an employer; to find where candidates are looking for job opportunities; and to discover who influences candidates in their employment decisions. 

When considering an employer, nearly all students say that an employer offering career advancement opportunities (98 percent), having a wage or salary that is competitive (97 percent) and offering learning and development opportunities (96 percent) are important attributes.

For a company to stand out, students are looking for an employer that is trustworthy (99 percent), has a strong, credible reputation (97 percent) and known for being innovative (96 percent).

Companies based in desirable cities or regions near affordable, safe housing should tout their location when engaging with recruits. According to survey respondents, it’s important that the location is safe (61 percent), it’s close to where the student plans to live and has a short commute (59 percent), and that it’s in an interesting area (56 percent).


Eighty one percent of students typically begin their search for employment in earnest in the second half of their undergraduate career. The job search typically begins online with students examining company websites (83 percent), LinkedIn (58 percent) and Glassdoor (56 percent) to find specific information about potential employers. It would, however, benefit companies to invest resources in on-campus recruitment efforts as 65 percent of respondents say they use career fairs to search for actual job openings.

Today’s recruits also follow companies on social media and are primarily interested in and most likely to engage with articles (62 percent) and videos (61 percent) compared to infographics (40 percent) and blog posts (21 percent).

When it comes to seeking guidance, students are most likely to speak with those closest to them, including family (70 percent) and friends (70 percent), as well as mentors (54 percent) and classmates (50 percent).

“At the end of the day, the job search for these in-demand engineering students comes down to a company’s reputation and the influence of those closest to them, as well as the one-on-one connections made during the recruitment process,” said Ann Schlenker, director of the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory.

When it comes to the automotive industry, students are particularly interested in pursuing careers that focus on the autonomous capabilities and electrification of vehicles. As students progress in their profession, they hope to advance the ability of vehicles to operate autonomously and to rely more on electricity for propulsion. Nearly four in 10 students say they are interested in working for all three business types (manufacturer, start up, or supplier). Twenty-eight percent said they are interested in working for an automotive manufacturer only, which leaves the majority of students considering jobs at a supplier or a start-up, something that wasn’t the case 10 years ago.

“With the increase in technology content in vehicles, we’re seeing students focus on how they can contribute to the development of that technology, regardless if that’s with a manufacturer or supplier or a non-traditional player in the mobility market,” said Kristen Wahl, director of the EcoCAR program. “The insights revealed from this study are beneficial for recruiters because, by surveying EcoCAR students, we’re going straight to the source of the best and brightest STEM talent entering the workforce.”

For more information about The EcoCAR Mobility Challenge, please visit avtcseries.org.


EcoCAR Mobility Challenge is a four-year collegiate engineering program that builds on the successful 30-year history of Department of Energy Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) by giving engineering students the chance to design and build advanced vehicle technologies that improve energy efficiency. General Motors provides each of the 12 competing teams with a 2019 Chevrolet Blazer, as well as vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support. MathWorks provides teams with a full suite of software tools, simulation models, training, technical mentoring and operational support. The U.S. Department of Energy and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, provide competition management, team evaluation and logistical support. Other sponsors provide hardware, software and training. Through this important public/private partnership, EcoCAR provides invaluable hands-on skills to promising minds ready to enter the workforce.

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