When Ben Gaffney signed on to participate in the EcoCAR 2 competition, he couldn’t have predicted the kick start it would give his career in automotive engineering. Two years later, and deep into the vehicle re-design process for EcoCAR 3, Gaffney is completing his master’s in mechanical engineering and was recently named General Motors (GM) Canada’s first hire among 100 new engineering recruits.

Ben Gaffney stands beside EcoCAR chevrolet malibu

Ben Gaffney is GM Canada’s first hire as the company announces 100 new engineering jobs.

GM Canada is on the hunt for software and controls engineers to drive the new innovation mandate for its Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa, Ontario. Following the recent news of downsizing inside the auto plant, the company is moving forward and investing in highly skilled workers in order to create a hub for innovation dedicated to vehicle connectivity and sustainability. With a relationship spanning over 50 years, it’s no surprise the automotive giant plans to rely on specialized engineering graduates from the University of Waterloo to fill new roles.

In the next two years, GM Canada will double its engineering workforce with the establishment of roles like Gaffney’s. He’ll assume the title of controls and diagnostics development engineer, and work alongside the veteran GM engineer who mentored him throughout his master’s degree.

Supporting advances in vehicle connectivity and innovative approaches to autonomous processes, Gaffney’s focus will be on control elements like onboard features and WIFI – basically any of the pieces connecting vehicles to each other and the grid.

In the wake of GM publicly naming him number one, he’s not shy about attributing his success to the experience with EcoCAR and the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT). Wholeheartedly, he admits the EcoCAR process and GM connection throughout his studies set him apart.

“During the EcoCAR 2 competition, we re-engineered a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu,” says Gaffney. “That experience gave me an extreme advantage entering the workplace at GM. I’ve been through an entire vehicle redesign and re-engineering process. There’s minimal training required of me. I’m ready to start.”

For Gaffney, the role is a dream come true. For many of his peers though, jobs with legacy companies, like GM, have lost their appeal. His path after graduation may becoming the road less traveled.

Side view of the EcoCAR2 Chevy Malibu on lift in the student design centre with  students standing below

Team members gather around the re-engineered Chevrolet Malibu EcoCAR 2 vehicle in the Sedra Student Design Centre.

“I can see the shift happening among new graduates, specifically engineers looking for jobs,” says Gaffney. “Startup environments and high tech companies in rapid growth mode attract a lot of talent. Legacy companies need to take note. Smaller companies can provide employees with exposure to all aspects of an industry.”

Appealing to the next generation of specialized engineers won’t be easy for many industry icons. Adapting to changing times is evidently on GM Canada’s agenda with the push to enhance its highly skilled labour force in Oshawa.  Placing more importance on innovation and environmental impact may be the horse-before-the-cart method necessary to ensure GM can successfully compete and lead the Canadian automotive industry for years to come.