Driverless Cars

General Motors' Layoffs Present Ample Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Driverless cars are the future. From software to support production to algorithms to battery technology, companies like yours will be needed.
General Motors' Layoffs Present Ample Opportunities for Entrepreneurs
Image credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Records-Johnston Professor of Free Enterprise in the School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The economy has seen some significant changes this fall. The bankruptcy of Sears Holdings reflected the end of an era in retail, as Sears and Kmart both closed stores. And this past week, General Motors, another staple of the American economy, advertised that it was laying off 14,000 workers and shutting down five plants. GM will stop producing six models, including the Chevrolet Impala.

Related: The 7 Worst Mistakes Companies Make When Laying Off Employees

While the Sears shutdown could be explained by the success Amazon.com has had replacing stores with its online shopping feature -- following the demise of local retail stores that had accelerated courtesy of WalMart -- this theory alone hardly explains the GM layoffs.

What we’re seeing, rather, is an adaptation to innovation and technological change. GM’s chairman and CEO Mary Barra stated as much, saying that the layoffs are the next step in the company’s “transformation to be[coming] highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future.”

Clearly, what caused the layoffs and the shut-downs is the expectation that self-driving autonomous cars are imminent.

Such technological change is an enormous opportunity for entrepreneurs, who are both the instigators of change through innovation and the players positioned to take advantage of it, as opposed to America's slow-moving giants like GM and Sears. Still, if you're one of those entrepreneurs, there is no need to wait for the eventual upheaval that the mass adoption of self-driving cars will cause.

GM’s move to meet the future already provides entrepreneurs with plenty of opportunities. Here are four ways entrepreneurs can benefit from GM’s transformation today:

1. Become a part of the emerging transportation manufacturing ecosystem.

From Tesla to Uber and Volvo, many companies agree that self-driving cars are the future. And those cars might even be flying. GM’s own transformation will position the company for the self-driving future, and push this process, already under way, one step further.

While nobody knows who will be first to market or what the personal transportation systems of the future will look like, there are plenty of opportunities to supply specialized services to these companies -- whether that means software to support production or create the driving algorithms themelves; new materials-development and testing; battery technology or sensors; and even ethical decision-making procedures. All of these opportunities -- and many more -- are market niches that promise business opportunities for new or existing startups.

2. Partner with GM to source its manufacturing.

Before self-driving cars have replaced today’s automobile manufacturing, startups can facilitate the natural lifecycle of the mature industry. As I explain in The Problem of Production, new innovations require highly integrated business. But with time, individual businesses will be able to focus more narrowly on their core value-creation expertise by outsourcing functions that were originally parts of GM.

Related: 3 Tips to Effectively Manage Layoffs

Automobile manufacturing, after all, is a very mature business. The car we buy from a dealer is the result of a vast network of thousands of companies working closely together. GM’s transformation will speed up this disintegration process and decentralize automobile manufacturing, increasing these sub-companies' ability to quickly adapt and respond to change (agility). This, in turn, will mean they'll be looking to outsource more functions. As an entrepreneur, you can do business by simply taking stuff off GM’s (and other companies’) hands.

3. Strengthen your competency by hiring highly trained former GM workers.

While being laid off may be a personal tragedy, it doesn't mean that the person suffering this fate has no market value. It only means there is no place in the company for that competency. The people laid off by GM are highly skilled within a wide variety of skillsets. Much of their expertise is not only usable but highly valuable in other industries.

There are electricians, metal engineers, software developers, plant managers, HR experts, contract negotiators and accountants -- to name but a few of the skills GM’s workers boast that are now available for hire.

This means an opportunity to strengthen your business competency by hiring highly skilled people. And these skills may even be a core competency when you're pursuing No. 2 above!

4. Revitalize your organization with experienced workers.

Skills aren’t everything. Work experience brings a lot to the table too: Experienced employees stabilize the work place, create a more professional atmosphere and help identify what will not work. Also, a new and challenging job can energize both the individual and the organization.

So you may not need to worry about hiring even those GM workers who were “actively disengaged” and therefore cost their former employer dearly. Chances are they will find the new job you offer highly motivating!

Economic change means there are and will be new opportunities. But to take advantage of them, one must be able to recognize those opportunities -- which is only possible by imagining (and creating) the future. That’s what GM is doing defensively, as a way of protecting the market value of its business.

Related: For 100 Years, General Motors Was All About Cars. Now, It's All About People.

Entrepreneurs should also do this offensively, by meeting the opportunities out there halfway to the future. In essence, they can do so by taking a free ride off GM’s transformation.

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