Hundreds of automotive engineering jobs are unfilled as the industry reinvents itself in a post-recession economy.

Ward's tallies nearly 500 vacancies at the recent job fair during the SAE Convergence electronics conference. It is unclear how many represent a net gain following the massive restructurings of the last two years, but one thing is certain: the current demand for automotive engineers is genuine and urgent.

“Platform after platform is being re-sourced, so the industry is looking for engineers to support that,” says Andrew Williams, chief engineer-rack drive EPS for TRW Inc., which has 85 openings in Michigan and another 325 globally.

But thin traffic at the job fair belies a national unemployment rate that has been hovering above 9%. An apparent gap between job vacancies and the availability of qualified professionals has OEMs and suppliers searching cap-in-hand.

Engineers with a background in mechatronics are in particularly high demand, a trend predicted by the Center for Automotive Research in a 2008 forecast.

Michigan-based Ricardo Inc. boasts more than 25 openings, from transmission design engineer to chief engineer for electric-vehicle programs.

Chrysler Group LLC has about 100 vacancies. Literature distributed by the auto maker reveals opportunities in areas ranging from electrical and electronic systems integration to racing technology.

Despite several years of downsizing, engineers remain well-compensated.

A new study commissioned by SAE International finds the mean annual base salary for full-time engineers working in the transportation sector to be $95,700 in the U.S. and $74,900 internationally.

In all, 3,312 U.S. engineers and 1,337 working elsewhere participated in the survey between Aug. 19 and Sept. 2.

Factor in bonuses, 401(k) retirement plans and other supplemental income, and the mean salary level rises to $105,800 in the U.S. and $82,600 internationally.