Train to gain: Why professional EV tech training is so vital to meet servicing needs

23rd Jun 2022

Train to gain: Why professional EV tech training is so vital to meet servicing needs

EVA Scotland media advisor Norrie Hunter on widespread work within the aftermarket sector to gear up for the EV revolution.

As the price difference between electric cars and traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles gradually narrows, the importance of professional EV servicing now features in the decision to go all-electric. But there are growing fears that dealerships and commercial fleet operators are not adequately staffed with professionally qualified technicians to meet the rapidly expanding EV sales boom.

As with many other myths that are circulating, is this one by and large unfounded?

Since EVs began appearing in numbers on the world markets, dealerships and fleet operators – some faster than others – have been upskilling their own technicians while a number of private companies that have established EV servicing operations to meet future demand have fine-tuned their business models and are most certainly not sitting on their laurels while important income stream opportunities exist.

Industry standards for servicing electric vehicles – whether privately owned or within commercial fleets – are high. The Department of Transport demands that only fully qualified repair and maintenance facilities and staff are in place to ensure rigorous industry standards are applied, giving customers the confidence and reassurance that their electric or hybrid vehicles are kept in the best possible condition.

Professional servicing of electric vehicles has now become a major priority for fleet operators and franchise dealerships throughout the country.

According to the Electric Vehicle Association (EVA) Scotland, training of technicians to the highest standards means both investment and total commitment to giving operators, private EV owners and those considering switching, the confidence in aftersales servicing to do so.

Neil Swanson, EVA Scotland director, explains: “Put simply, routine EV servicing is very much the same as on any other vehicle, something dealerships and private garages do day in and day out. The areas that can be challenging are electronics and battery management systems, including cooling, but these are not overly complicated provided the correct training is in place. Remember, EVs are famously reliable.

“Like any vehicle there can be occasionally difficulties and that’s where a deep technical knowledge of an EV’s electrical systems is essential.

“Some dealerships may not be familiar with or have limited experience of this, but they are rapidly up-skilling and there are a growing number of specialist companies on hand and able to deliver that EV systems expertise.”

This includes members of HEVRA (the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance). Its member garages have been checked for the right qualifications, tools and equipment to service and repair electric and hybrid vehicles.

One such company, independent garage CleevelyEV in Gloucestershire, is already there. It’s able to complete an EV repair at a level that perhaps a conventional dealership would not yet consider, from single battery module or cell replacement, to single component replacement in the power electronics.

“They have onboard telematics systems capable of identifying issues and diagnostics that can schedule for early intervention before they become a problem and this is an area that dealerships perhaps need to develop if they wish to stay relevant in today’s EV servicing marketplace,” adds Neil Swanson.

Dealers of EV-focused vehicle brands have an increasing number of EV-trained technicians, resulting in staff capable of performing EV servicing.

Swanson continues: “Training is available for each make of EV, including more complex EV-only systems. These are well supported by courses already available on EV vehicle technology… with EV reliability among the best in market, issues are few and far between.”

Not only that, but also EV fleet operators typically report lower maintenance requirements and costs, with service turnaround typically quicker.

According to Arnold Clark, one of Scotland’s largest EV car franchises, electric vehicles are actually easier to service because they contain a motor and a battery pack, rather than engines with a complex system of moving parts from pistons and gears, to valves and drive belts.

At Arnold Clark’s Glasgow and Stafford ‘Innovation Centres’, visitors can see first-hand how EVs operate and how they are serviced.

A spokesperson continues: “Currently over 50% of all of our technicians are trained to work on alternatively fuelled vehicles. However, we want to push that number up and achieve a minimum of 75% by the end of this year. Our apprentices also complete electric vehicle awareness courses as part of their training.”

A rapid pace of change

One of Scotland’s leading experts on EV battery technology, Dr Euan McTurk says that the uptake of electric vehicles has been so rapid that the global supply of engineers, technicians and electrochemists is playing catch up.

“The good news,” he adds, “is that most of the servicing and repairs that an electric vehicle would need could be performed by any mechanic and electric vehicles are exceptionally reliable, so the chances of requiring an EV specialist to perform a repair are very slim. However, for that tiny fraction of work that involves the high voltage system and electronics that are unfamiliar to a petrol/diesel mechanic, EV-trained technicians are masters at fault-finding and repairing, and can save drivers vast sums of money versus going to a dealer who may replace a repairable component outright.”

HEVRA, he says, has member garages across the UK, offering EV training and support to technicians.

“Members have a wealth of knowledge and experience in finding and fixing unusual faults with motors, and chargers and their website lists local EV specialist garages.

“Any existing mechanic can be trained to do advanced work on EVs, and as other mechanics who have already been through the training will testify, it’s nowhere near as daunting as they may think.

“There will no doubt be growing pains while enough technicians and engineers gain this new set of skills to fill the gaps across the EV supply chain and servicing, but Scottish businesses and institutions are already tackling this head-on.”

Last year the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) urged the Government to boost employer funding for EV skills training.

It’s suggested a £15m boost would play a critical role, contributing towards training for up to 75,000 technicians – small fry compared to the £1.9bn investment committed by the Government in the 2020 Spending Review to supporting the transition to zero-emission vehicles for charging infrastructure and consumer incentive.

“The Government wants the adoption of EV to continue at a pace – the investment in EV charging needs to be matched by an investment in EV skills training to help employers ensure the workforce is EV-ready and electrified motoring doesn’t come at a premium,” states CEO Steve Nash.

In Scotland, local training centre such as Edinburgh College and the Dundee and Angus College already offer EV courses including (at Dundee and Angus) a Level 3 Award in Electric/Hybrid Vehicle System Repair and Replacement, all to support the high demand for skilled technicians.

Caryn Gibson, business partnership manager at Dundee and Angus College, says: “As we see the demand for electric vehicles increase, we must now ensure that the infrastructure of skill to maintain and repair them is firmly in place.

“Dundee and Angus College are leading the way with the launch of our Electric Vehicle Training School in partnership with Robert Lawson and Sons Auto Electricians and it’s fantastic to see demand and momentum start to grow and that industry are recognising the need for these key skills. The partnership with Robert Lawson & Sons Auto Electricians allows us to deliver the courses in a very practical way in an industry setting that the technicians recognise.”

Explaining the work further, Steve Swinley, the college’s head of engineering, says: “We currently offer IMI Level 1, 2 and 3 that sees the college able train everyone from those in EV car sales through to drivers and advanced technicians. This summer will also see us launch our Hazard Management Electric Vehicle courses designed for our blue-light response teams and we very much look forward to working with them as they transition to electric fleets.”

Meanwhile, Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc (MSIP) – a massive e-mobility hub in Dundee – has recently launched its hands-on Skills Academy to train the next generation of technicians and engineers for the manufacturing, servicing and recycling of electric vehicles.

And other fast-paced developments are expected in the coming months.

Dr Euan McTurk sums up the work in progress: “The sooner that more technicians gain these skills, the faster the UK’s burgeoning EV sector can expand even further… there are plenty of exciting EV engineering businesses waiting to take on trained staff.”

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