Korean executives flock to US to recruit next generation of battery engineers

Posted on : 2021-09-24 16:55 KST Modified on : 2021-09-24 16:55 KST
As the field of battery-powered vehicles heats up, Korean corporations are rushing to recruit students in battery-related fields to fill worker shortages and shore up their competitiveness in the global market
Shin Hak-cheol, CEO of LG Chem, delivers welcoming remarks at a hiring fair held in the US on Sept. 17. (provided by LG Chem)
Shin Hak-cheol, CEO of LG Chem, delivers welcoming remarks at a hiring fair held in the US on Sept. 17. (provided by LG Chem)

In the field of batteries, companies are competing to secure the workers they need to ensure competitiveness.

S. Korean battery companies pre-recruit international students

Recently, the CEOs of various electric vehicle (EV) battery and battery material corporations have been traveling to the US. SK Innovation plans to hold a forum on Oct. 2 to recruit employees in San Francisco, home to Silicon Valley.

Traditionally, SK Innovation has selected workers for its different sectors through yearly group-level overseas hiring events. This was the job of the human resources development committee within its SUPEX Council, a group of CEOs representing the corporation’s major affiliates.

But now the event is being spearheaded by individual companies for the first time — part of an attempt to snap up workers in the fields of batteries and eco-friendly materials, both future strategy areas for SK Innovation.

The event boasts the full array of Innovation managers: CEO & President Kim Jun, battery chief Jee Dong-seob, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology Director Lee Sung-joon, and Battery Research Institute Director Lee Jang-won.

Prospective employees, including South Korean students pursuing graduate degrees in battery-related areas in the US, are to be invited as Kim Jun himself gives a presentation on the company’s future plans.

“We’re starting in the US before expanding the events to Europe, Japan, and elsewhere going forward,” explained Choi Gyeong-rak, director of the SK Innovation human resource development office.

On Sept. 17, LG Chem held its own hiring event at a hotel in New Jersey. Representatives including Vice Chairman and CEO Shin Hak-cheol, chief technology officer (CTO) Yoo Ji-young, and chief human resources officer (CHO) Kim Sung-min shared the company’s blueprint with around 40 South Korean graduate and undergraduate students invited from roughly a dozen institutes and universities such as MIT, Georgia Tech and Cornell.

As the parent company to LG Energy Solution, the world’s second-ranked EV battery company, LG Chem has been pursuing the development of battery materials, eco-friendly materials, biomaterials, and new pharmaceuticals as new projects. It plans to invest 6 trillion won (US$4.1 billion) through 2025 in major EV battery materials such as cathode materials and separation membranes.

“Our aim is to maintain a good relationship with talented students in the US and encourage them to come work with us after they graduate,” an LG Chem official explained.

LG Energy Solution CEO Kim Jong-hyun also took part in recruitment efforts in Los Angeles earlier this month.

“Even before the battery area was spun off, LG Chem had been holding overseas hiring events as parent company since the mid-’00s, but these days there has been a serious shortage of research workers in the battery field in particular,” LG Energy Solution explained.

“Related industries have been growing quickly, so there’s been a rising demand for workers, but the supply [of human resources] is inelastic,” it said.

Among LG Energy Solution’s roughly 8,000 South Korean workers, over 2,000 are employed in research and development (R&D). It remains short-handed despite periodic hiring of local South Korean students majoring in areas such as mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering and chemistry.

Companies poach and get poached amid wariness over China

The industry has been fighting a war of nerves as companies seek an advantage over competitors in securing human resources.

The core factor in the battery dispute between LG and SK that was settled early this year was the fact that trade secrets related to technology were leaked as numerous workers moved from LG to SK.

The Evergrande Group, China’s second-ranked real estate development company and the current subject of default fears, poached large numbers of workers from LG Chem and Samsung SDI as it ventured into the EV field, among them Lee June-soo, former Hyundai Mobis senior vice president and head of SK Innovation’s battery research.

Northvolt, a Swedish company that supplies EV batteries to Germany’s Volkswagen Group, has also been proactive about recruiting technical workers from South Korean companies like Samsung SDI.

An official at one battery material corporation explained, “There’s been wariness within the industry about moving over to Chinese companies due to talk about poor treatment, including cases in the past there they poach a lot of South Korean display workers and promised to give them a lot of benefits, only to kick them to the curb after less than a year.”

By Park Jong-o, staff reporter

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