Detroit Free Press, USA Today: Marick Masters on GM's recent job cuts
General Motors is a technology company that makes cars, and the skills its employees had yesterday are continuously becoming outdated. Experts say that is the underlying message of GM CEO Mary Barra's move on Oct. 31 to offer voluntary buyouts to GM's North American salaried workers with 12 or more years of experience with the company. On the surface, it's typical cost-cutting ahead of a potential dip in new-car sales and rising raw material costs. But look closer. Consider that Barra hails from a human resources background, so targeting employees with long seniority and high pay grades is strategic when a company is moving toward the development of more electric cars, fuel cells and autonomous vehicles, experts say. It means redeploying the workforce and freeing up significant capital, said Marick Masters, professor of business at Wayne State University. "Technology has changed so fast and is changing so fast that if you’ve been out of school 10 or 20 years, you’re not at the leading edge anymore," said Masters. "This will give GM an opportunity to create a greenfield of sorts, to create a new company within a company." The company's changing focus opens up opportunities to millennials, those people ages 22 to 37 who might change their perception of GM from that of a stodgy carmaker bankrupt a few years ago to a technology company that offers some advantages over that of a start-up, Masters said. But for older workers already in the auto industry, it means they must up their game and continuous training is a requisite. “I don’t know if they’re extinct or need a new degree, but they need to be engaged in continued learning and advancement," said Masters. "They need to be agile. Organizations do not guarantee lifetime employment anymore. This is a statement that the world is changing.” The "new" GM will want workers who are highly creative and capable of working autonomously as well as collaboratively, Masters said. The future employee will take initiative and have a strong technology background, good communication skills and project-management capability. GM might do more contract hiring to keep fixed costs low and GM's agility high, he said. "China is taking the lead in electric vehicles. Ford has an aggressive plan to redeploy its investments along those lines, too," Masters said. "So GM has to have the flexibility to free up staff and have the capital available to invest in this technology."