Looming crisis

20 December 2021

Okay, everyone out there knows I love my V8s… and my straight sixes and my four-cylinders. I mean, I just love engines, right?

But I also know the future is electric, and after the Federal Government released its Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy, you can expect to see a lot more electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads.

There are 25,000 EVs scooting about the country. But, that number, if Mr Morrison is right, will grow to 1.7 million by 2030.

When I say EVs, I mean zero and low emissions vehicles (ZLEVs) – that means EVs, hybrids and hydrogen vehicles, but we all know that most of the fleet will be pure electric.

So, that’s all great, but there’s a massive problem, which I’ll get to in a minute. But, first, here’s a bit of background.

The Federal Government’s push for more EVs is to reduce emissions in the transport sector.

But, if 1.7 million ZLEVs exist on-road by 2030, this raises some interesting questions.

The general assumption is electric vehicles require little to no servicing, which is just not true. Most electric vehicle manufacturers stipulate annual service schedules that are tied to the vehicle warranty, similar to that of conventional petrol or diesel vehicles, where owners risk voiding their new vehicle warranty by not following the servicing schedule.

There are less labour hours involved and fewer parts to replace when servicing an electric vehicle, but electric vehicle technicians need a different skill set than traditional motor mechanics. These added skill requirements include:

  • Coding, reprogramming vehicle software and firmware updates
  • Depowering and reinitialising battery electric vehicles
  • Diagnosing and repairing high voltage rechargeable energy storage systems
  • Diagnosing and repairing high traction motors in battery electric motors
  • Diagnosing and repairing DC to DC converters in battery electric vehicles
  • Diagnosing and repairing auxiliary motors and associated components
  • Diagnosing and repairing system instrumentation and safety interlocks

These skill requirements will give rise to specialist electric vehicle technician job roles, whose function will be to work only on EVs. It’s possible this job may become a licensed occupation in the future.

There are only around 500 qualified EV technicians in Australia servicing a fleet of around 25,000 electric vehicles. Growth in the number of EV technicians has been slow over the past few years. But, if we’re going to explode from 25,000 to 1.7 million over the next eight years – as forecast by the government – how many specialist EV technicians will we need, and will we have enough?

I have no idea. Do you?

To answer this question, I went to the boffins at the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC) and asked them to do some modelling. VACC looked at the experience of Norway, a country far more advanced down the path of electric mobility and with the highest number of EVs per capita in the world. Data from Norway showed a reduction in workshop labour hours and revenue obtained on labour hours, in a study of over 100,000 EVs compared to internal combustion vehicles.

Adjusting for the increase in labour productivity for an EV technician, VACC deduced the growth in Australia’s EV fleet based on the Federal Government’s 2030 projections, along with the trend growth rate in labour force training numbers for EV technicians. 

VACC’s modelling shows that, based on the government’s projections of 1.7 million EVs on-road by 2030, Australia will need around 7,300 qualified EV technicians in 2030 to service and maintain this fleet. However, based on trend growth in the actual number of EV technicians to date, we’re going to fall short by over 6,000 EV technicians.

That’s bad news.

So, if the government’s estimate for the number of EVs on-road is ridgy-didge, we’ll have nowhere near the skilled trade labour resource with the technical capability to service this fast-growing EV fleet.

I support the uptake of electric vehicles, but the policy focus needs to consider the specialised training required for EV service and repair. Training providers will need to have the resources and capacity to deliver qualifications and skill sets for the service and repair of electric vehicles, and the teaching expertise to deliver such training.

With the skills profile of a future EV technician looking more like that of an IT professional or software engineer, this may entail a new class of educated individual who’s not solely mechanically focused, but more like a hybrid of an IT geek, a diagnostician, and a mechanical technician.

Where will we find these unicorns?

Regardless of how quickly Australia transitions to electric vehicles, unless the government takes measures now to ensure we have a skilled future workforce, then the planned EV sales boom will collide with a lack of people qualified to work on them.

See ya on the road, folks!

Words: VACC ambassador Shane Jacobson.

Want to hear more from Shane? Catch him – along with co-hosts Greg Rust and VACC CEO, Geoff Gwilym – on THE GRILLE podcast each month. There'll be auto news and views, industry insights and trends, special guests, and plenty of laughs along the way. Visit: 

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