US component manufacturer body, OESA (Original Equipment Suppliers Association), says the current trend of engineers working “excessive” overtime is not sustainable as the American automotive industry enjoys prolonged recovery.

Despite the chronic woes faced by its European counterparts, OESA and the US OEMs are riding the crest of renewed consumer confidence, but are coming straight up against a serious lack of qualified personnel.

“We are having a very difficult time finding appropriate talent, especially engineers to grow our companies,” OESA president and CEO, Neil De Koker, told just-auto from his headquarters at Troy, Michigan. “I had one CEO tell me he has 180 requisitions out for engineers and technicians, but they can’t fill them to meet customer launch programmes, which are at their highest level for years.

“They are working excessive overtime – that can’t be sustained for ever. We lost tens of thousands of highly qualified people during the downturn and many of them moved out or retired early or just quit.”

The OESA chief cited the difficulty in motivating young people in particular to take up science or engineering, despite the fact the automotive sector was “highly lucrative,” paying mostly more than doctors and lawyers.

The supplier body has discussed the issue for the past six years, but De Koker said the recruitment difficulty went beyond the industry’s remit.

“We need the National Association of Manufacturers to say how important manufacturing is to our country,” said De Koker. “Our government needs to be more supportive.

“Most other countries in the world have really recommended the importance of manufacturing to their economies and we do the exact opposite.”

Despite losing around 30 members when the economic crisis really bit in 2009, De Koker said OESA had gained between 55 and 60 new companies to reach a total of 435 suppliers generating global sales of US$300bn.