As shops grapple with vehicles changing and becoming more electric, finding technicians who are equipped to work on EVs becomes essential in a pool of talent that is already limited.
NOLN spoke with with Troy Lachance, an instructor in the automotive program at White Mountains Community College in Berlin, New Hampshire, to talk about what technicians entering the workforce need to know and what is needed in the industry from the next generation.
An Unexpected Calling
Lachance graduated in 1993 from the program he currently teaches and then went on to work as a full-time world-class General Motors technician until 2013.
Lachance never intended to become a teacher, but in 2011, he was approached by a former teacher who encouraged him to apply for a vacant position at the school.
“I just happen to get a visit from him one day saying, ‘Hey, one of the other instructors is retiring. I think you've got a good personality and would be a good fit,’” Lachance recounts. “And I applied for the job and the rest is history. So you just never know where life is going to take you, right?”
Since then, Lachance has run his own repair shop from his home and pushed for the automotive program at WMCC to create classes dedicated to electric vehicles.
Preparing for an Electric Future
The school offers students a 15-week EV course in the traditional automotive program or a one-year accelerated electric vehicle program, which Lachance had a part in helping create.
There’s much that students need to learn before they are able to build an EV successfully, but the biggest point Lachance hammers home for them is attention to safety.
“It's no different than a lineman working out on the pole, you know, (on) your street corner, there's a lot of safety protocol that has to happen,” Lachance says. “And we by far focus on that not only first, but spend the most time with safety. And with that safety component comes the understanding of how things work.”
Students listen to lessons as well as perform hands-on work. In the one-year EV program students actually have the chance to build an EV in the class shop. It’s a great opportunity for students to work on something new without potentially endangering a driver.
Lachance encounters many students that aren’t interested in learning about EVs. But he says that regardless of anyone’s feelings on the existence of EVs, technicians will have to know how to deal with them as they grow in popularity.
“You don't have to like EVs,” Lachance states. “I'm neutral. But you'd be silly if you didn't recognize the increased popularity and the fact that you can make a bunch of money fixing them.”
With nearly every manufacturer having an electric or hybrid option now, technicians who are qualified to work on EVs become an asset to any shop.
“The EV techs are short, there's not many of them out there. So you can work wherever you want–more or less name your price, as long as you are, you know, asking reasonable wages— you'll be in high demand,” Lachance says.
Cultivating a Capable Crew
Shops looking to attract talent that can work with this emerging technology must show that they can have a fulfilling career. If students see that they can make a comfortable living working in the industry, the industry will draw in intuitive minds.
“We need intelligent, intellectual people to work on vehicles,” he says. “Younger people need to understand that there's a lot that emulates what they already know, right? Whether it's video games, and computers and cell phones … there's a lot of modern electronics and computerized components that require the interest and expertise of the younger generation.”
Technicians that are aware of and willing to adapt to the changes in the coming years, such as battery technology changing and improving, will be able to help support a shop navigating incoming changes.
Regardless of the direction the industry and the future of EVs go, Lachance’s goal is to prepare his students to have the best opportunities and to keep drivers safe with the work they do. Though he doubts many proposed EV transition goals will be met, EVs are nonetheless established in the industry and will only become more prominent.
As shops look for talent to build their teams, they need to be sure their technicians can handle what is becoming an established market in the industry by investing time and resources into preparing their staff for the work they will see in the shop in the coming years.