To power e-mobility forward, companies will have to upskill and reskill the workforce to meet the demand for greater flexibility and a wider variety of skills.
E-mobility is disrupting the automotive value chain. Whether for powertrain technology, battery systems, or charging infrastructure, new sectors, business models, services, and job profiles will emerge.
To power e-mobility forward, companies will have to upskill and reskill the workforce to meet the demand for greater flexibility and a wider variety of skills. The needs often extend beyond purely technical and engineering profiles.
In a panel session at the recent Energy Tech Summit in Warsaw, Poland, industry experts discussed the new competencies needed to embrace evolving e-mobility opportunities and looked at how companies can recalibrate their talent strategies to build a thriving and sustainable industry.
Embedded software engineers
E-mobility is a multidisciplinary field that requires expertise from various engineering streams, including chemical, power electronics, embedded software, mechanical design, functional safety, and electric motor calibration.
Embedded software is playing an increasingly important role, and the trend toward autonomous driving and electric vehicles (EVs) is expected to add hundreds of millions of lines of code into cars. The value of the software within a car will increase by approximately 11% per year between 2020 and 2030, from approximately €280 per vehicle at the start of the forecast period to approximately €760 per vehicle at the end of the decade, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report that asks, “Is E-mobility a Green Boost for European Automotive Jobs?”
This steep increase will promote higher demand for software engineers. By 2030, BCG predicts, 65,000 new jobs will be created based on technology-evolution shifts that will be driven by the increased software value in cars.
“There is going to be a shift in the engineering skillset … and software is going to be critical,” said François Chadwick, CFO at Volta Charging. “It may be a differentiator between all of us to continue to offer the best products and solutions.”
How can industry attract and empower software engineers to focus on developing customer-oriented, easy-to use EV charging solutions? “Many universities now have programs around electric vehicles or charging equipment, so it is certainly getting there,” said Tim Reeser, co-founder and CEO of Lightning eMotors. “But the software integration on top of the hardware continues to be something we have to build internally and invest in directly. We can’t rely entirely on governments and public sectors to make those investments. We have to take our responsibility to get the workforce trained.”
Recruiting a qualified workforce has always been a challenge for companies, but with the current talent shortage and workforce diversity needs, companies are forced to rethink how they can acquire relevant skills. One proven method is making an impressive comeback: After falling out of favor, apprenticeships are once again proving to be a particularly cost-effective way to train, support, and mentor the next generation of employees, from entry-level to executive positions.
“Apprenticeships disappeared over the past 15 to 20 years, but they are going to be absolutely necessary,” said Chadwick. “For some of the critical infrastructure that we put in the ground, it is not necessary to have a university degree.”
At Volta Charging, people from all walks of life have left nonprofits, education, finance, and the hospitality industry to fill more technical roles. Such switchers could fuel “the new types of jobs that are coming,” said Chadwick.
Electreon, a provider of wireless charging solutions for EVs, is headquartered in the Youth Village of Hadassah-Neurim in central Israel. The Youth Village boarding school runs a two-year technical college where residents can study transportation and engineering. Noam Ilan, vice president business development at Electreon, cited the benefits of the company’s equal-opportunity advocacy: “We are employing a few kids as apprentices in our company. Those kids aren’t engineers, but they are very skillful, enthusiastic, and do great work.”
For employers, the challenge is often to build awareness of the company, find compelling candidates, and retain top talent for as long as possible by providing appropriate career paths and job-rotation opportunities.
Earlier this year, Siemens emphasized its commitment to support and empower a new EV workforce. It is seeking candidates for manufacturing, R&D, and engineering roles and has launched a four-year apprenticeship program aimed at developing technical, methodological, and social skills. Students enrolled in this apprenticeship program attend classes on a part-time basis and gain hands-on manufacturing experience at Siemens, while receiving full-time pay.
Siemens has also initiated the eMobility Experience, a training program for early-career professionals to develop specific skills for the EV industry. The multi-year program consists of 90-day rotations in R&D, manufacturing, and product management. Participants learn skills such as software and hardware engineering, embedded systems, and cloud platforms, in addition to traditional mechanical and operational skills.
The energy sector is where green jobs meet blue collars.
As a mechanical engineer, Reeser acknowledged the considerable need for engineering skills and outlined Lightning eMotors’ academic partnerships with the University of Colorado and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the U.S. Nonetheless, he is convinced that “the big bottleneck is going to be on the non-engineering side.”
Blue-collar workers are the backbone of the EV infrastructure. They oversee the installation, maintenance, and repair of EV charging stations. They may be licensed as service technicians, electricians, welders, or powder-coating painters. However, as Reeser said, the United States has underinvested in its blue-collar workforce for the past 30 years, and companies are now having a more difficult time finding blue-collar workers than white-collar workers.
“Software, mechanical, and electrical engineers are important, but we don’t only work with highly qualified engineers,” said Electreon’s Ilan. “We need to provide support to those in the field who are not engineers but who need very good technical skills.”
Tanya Sinclair, senior policy director for Europe at ChargePoint, echoed the sentiment. “We make great charging stations and sell them,” Sinclair said. “But someone needs to be skilled to put them in the ground. Someone needs to have that rapid response to go in, repair, and operate those stations. We need a holistic view of the skill set around the different types of vehicle charging systems, [because] that is what is going to make this sector sustainable and reliable for the future.”
It remains to be seen whether the best way to build the required skill set will be “a pipeline of engineering- and manufacturing-focused students coming through school or university systems or whether it is going to be a retraining or a bit of both,” she added. “But definitely the demand is there, and it is growing.”
Engineers and businessmen
“Think like an engineer, act like a businessman” is easier said than done. Too often, students are asked to choose between engineering and business majors, when in fact universities should be working to bridge those disciplines.
“Business in engineering is missing,” lamented Daniel Feldman, vice president of product marketing and product management, B2B and B2G, at Enel X Way. “Many people who learn engineering don’t understand the business motivations.” In the EV charging infrastructure sector, Feldman recommends mandatory courses to explain the business fundamentals of EV charging: what happens from the car to the charger through the cloud, who pays for what, how transactions take place, what authorizations are needed, and what affects charging.
Innovators and challengers
E-mobility is pushing new frontiers in which innovation can make a difference. And innovation benefits from critical thinking, said ChargePoint’s Sinclair.
Critical thinking is the ability to think rationally and act strategically, so it is not only about education and technical qualifications but also about interpersonal and analytical skills. “We have to electrify road transportation at a really fast pace, so the people you need in your business are not the people that just want to be told what to do,” said Sinclair. “You need innovators and challengers.”
This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.
Anne-Françoise Pelé is editor-in-chief of eetimes.eu and EE Times Europe.
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