The race to train a new cohort of electric vehicle mechanics

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The writer is Managing Director of Switch Mobility

Motorists of a certain vintage will have noticed that repairing a car has become more and more high-tech. When I started in the automotive industry over four decades ago, a wrench, pliers and adjustable wrenches were the tools of the day. Today, mechanics and technicians are equipped with laptops, iPads and advanced diagnostic computers to help them fix a faulty vehicle.

The reason is simple. A modern car contains around 100 million lines of code. To put this in context, a high-end airliner has 14m of lines. Over the next decade, it’s estimated that most passenger vehicles will need around 300 million lines of software to stay on the road. In other words, cars are increasingly dependent on electronics.

Needless to say, as the UK goes electric and the internal combustion engine becomes less important, fixing a faulty car will require skills more akin to a software engineer than a traditional mechanic.

Since the government set itself the ambitious goal of banning the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030, much of the focus has been on preparing the infrastructure to support this transition.

For example, it’s no secret that we need to see more street chargers available. We also need to see more battery factories set up on UK soil. We need to prepare the national grid for an increase in energy consumption. And we also need to prepare a workforce with the skills to not only build and manufacture a new style of vehicle, but also to maintain and repair them.

When I stepped down as Managing Director of Aston Martin in 2020, I created a charitable foundation to support bright and talented young apprentices as they embark on careers in the automotive industry. During this work, I have seen first-hand the talent that we have among our young people today. There is no shortage of appetite and skills to fill these emerging roles, but they also need support from government, employers and the education sector.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently expressed his desire to create a highly skilled and well paid economy. The automotive revolution we are at the dawn of can undoubtedly be a key driver of this admirable ambition. But now is the time to start expanding the training options available to the new generation of engineers, technicians and automotive specialists. The 2030 deadline is fast approaching and we risk running before we can walk if our roads are full of electric vehicles that cannot be properly maintained or repaired as needed.

As always, this kind of reconfiguration in height of our relation to transport will not be done without pitfalls. Software engineers make a lot of money, and the best are often drawn to the top positions at exciting tech companies that can offer generous salaries as well as multiple perks, such as on-site hairdressers, gyms, and restaurants. This is a far cry from what might be available at your local garage. Ultimately, dealers will have to compete for this talent and this can lead to higher costs for repairing EVs, at least in the short to medium term.

But the UK has a proud automotive history and it would be a travesty if that legacy does not continue in the new ‘electric age’ of transport. It is therefore imperative that schools, colleges and universities recognize the role the auto industry can play in providing highly skilled, well-paid and green jobs for future generations.

According to the RAC, only 5% of the current cohort of over 200,000 auto technicians in the UK are currently qualified to work on electric cars. With over 345,000 pure electric cars on the road (with many more hybrids), there is already a worrying shortage of knowledgeable technicians. The 2030 target is fast approaching. Let’s make sure we’re ready before he arrives.

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