Why the transition to EVs will stall without a properly trained workforce

An accessible workforce of technicians qualified to work on electric vehicles (EVs) is as important to EV adoption as the availability of charging networks.

Why the transition to EVs will stall without a properly trained workforce

This was one of the main points raised during a presentation from the Institute of Motor Industry (IMI) at the last Solar and Storage Show.

The professional body for automotive says the industry is facing a significant shortfall in the number of qualified EV technicians needed and is campaigning to both attract new people into the sector and make it easier for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle technicians to retrain.

The latest IMI figures reveal only 20% of the UK aftermarket population is qualified to work, at some level, on electric vehicles, with just over 45,300 certified to the government-endorsed IMI TechSafe™ standard.

And the qualification rate is slowing, with a 36% year-on-year decline between 2022 and 2023.

The IMI predicts the sector will need 107,000 EV- trained technicians by 2030, rising to 126,000 by 2032 and to 185,000 by 2035.

It says that, if current trends persist, there could be a shortfall in the number of people qualified to officially recognised standards of some 13,000 by 2032.

Several reasons were put forward to explain the shortfall and the declining uptake of EV certification.

Government delays to the ICE vehicle ban

In September last year, the Government delayed the ban on the manufacture of ICE vehicles by five years to 2035.

While this is not expected to delay the direction of travel for manufacturers, it does serve to further impact consumer buying confidence.

Delivering the presentation, IMI chief executive officer, Steve Nash, said: “We were doing well on the qualification front, but the government announcement took the impetus away. Yet the product plan of pretty much every manufacturer is electric.”

Manufacturers are still working towards the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate which states 50% of vehicles they produce must be electric by 2028, rising to 80% by 2030. This will naturally reduce the production of fossil fuel cars over the next decade anyway.

“All the Government has done is give customers another five years to make up their minds, which isn’t particularly helpful. There’s something like 30,000 independent operators out there and getting them to adopt the skills they need to work with electric vehicles is much more of a challenge,” Steve added.

Lack of consumer confidence

The government delay, misinformation, and a lack of charging infrastructure are impacting consumer confidence, and this is reflected in the willingness of independent garages to adopt the skills they need to work with electric vehicles.

Steve commented: “Mixed messages only serve to stultify the commitment to training that is fundamental to safe roads and economic stability.

People won’t buy a car they think they can’t fix or insure. People also have a misconception about how long a battery might last. That’s why manufacturers are putting eight year warranties on the batteries alone.

“We also need to get more charging points and better ranges, but we are seeing advances. The rapid development of tech means many of the traditional objections to electrified vehicles are being taken away.

“But we need a competitive service network and that relies on smaller garages as well as the dealerships.”

Reluctance to invest in skills

Another challenge to overcome is a lack of willingness and/or resources from the independent garages to invest in the training, particularly when workloads are already high.

Steve elaborated: “The general vehicle population is older now than it’s ever been, so the independent garages are stuck with lots of work and a shortage of people – 24,000 vacancies – so they can’t afford to be sending people on training courses.

“If an automotive employer and their workforce can’t see the immediate ROI of EV training because of a lack of consumer buying confidence, the already critical skills gap will only widen.

“Independent garages will also be nervous about committing to training given that it may be some time before they see significant quantities of electrified vehicles coming through.

“It would help if the Government put some money behind helping people to get trained. We are in discussion with the Government about how they can support us, especially among the independent garages who now think they have 12 years before they need to worry about this.”

Training for EV

There are various training avenues to explore, including the IMI TechSafe qualifications which are endorsed by OZEV. These cover qualifications for a range of job types with high-voltage vehicles.

The Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance Ltd (HEVRA) also supports training through its partnership with the RMI Academy of Automotive Skills.

The member scheme was founded in 2017 and vets garages for the right tools and qualifications to be able to service and repair electric and hybrid vehicles. It provides practical and technical support to help businesses through the EV training process. Customers can search on the HEVRA website for approved garages in their area.

The scheme currently has more than 320 members but is expecting significant growth this year. To join, technicians must hold a Level 3 qualification.

Craig Scragg, HEVRA technical services manager, said: “I agree with the IMI, there is a shortage of EV technicians, and we are going to need more, but there is still reluctance among some independent garage owners out there. It’s often a general mindset about the concept of electric vehicles, but if a business is to survive for the long term, it’s going to have to look at getting on board with it.

“We’ve done some figures, and we think we’ll need another 200 members just for cars coming into the independent market this year.

“We’ll support anyone who wants to start offering EV repair and maintenance services, including pointing them to training, putting things in place in the garage, technical support and promoting the fact they now offer EVs. People think there’s a huge cost involved, but you can start smaller and grow the service in a more manageable way.”

The view from independent garages

Kev Taylor, owner of Top Notch Vehicle Repairs in Tamworth, has been servicing vehicles since 1992 and is currently pitched in the yet-to-be- convinced camp.

“I just don’t see that electric is going to take off completely and I definitely won’t be spending any money on training to work on EVs,” he said. “We do some work on hybrid vehicles, but we don’t touch the batteries, I think that should be a dealership job.

“We should be getting rid of diesel, but I think it will be hydrogen that catches on. And we have a long way to go before there are no fuel engines out there for us to work on.

“I’d also expect people buying electric vehicles to change them every few years when their warranties run out, before they need to worry about having to replace the batteries.”

Firmly in the EV camp is Matt Cleevely, who set up a specialist EV arm of his family’s long-standing mechanics business in 2018 after completing his Level 4 training.

Cheltenham-based Cleevely Motors has been trading since 1962, and it was down to Matt’s interest in renewable technology, and a desire to protect the company for the future, that he decided to go down the electric route.

‘Workload has rocketed’

Matt bought his first electric vehicle and later set up Cleevely EV to provide services for EV owners, by EV owners. Growth has been rapid, with electric and hybrid now accounting for around 40% of the business, which services and repairs around 20 to 25 vehicles every day overall.

Matt said: “We had the aim of being the best independent specialist in the Gloucestershire area for EVs, but the workload rocketed, and we were soon attracting customers from across the country. We went from a small business with four or five employees, to a group of three companies and 19 members of staff, including nine Level 4 EV technicians.”

Expansion included setting up a mobile business to service demand from drivers up and down the country, designing in-house repairs to specific vehicle issues and supplying EV parts.

“We have gone the extra mile to fill a hole in the aftercare market in terms of service, specialist knowledge, parts and repairs,” Matt said.

He now gives talks at other independent garages to provide help and advice on how to make the move into EVs.

“There is a fear of change, and a lot of scaremongering from the mass media. But you can’t stick your head in the sand; electric vehicles are here to stay and there is money to be made.

Already there are not enough technicians in the dealerships. And, despite what the tool manufacturers might tell you, it is possible to start working on EVs with a modest number of tools. The training isn’t cost prohibitive either.”

What do you think? We’d love to get your views on this topic. Please email: linda@renewableenergyinstaller.co.uk.