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Robin ConklenMay 20, 2024 9:00:00 AM10 min read

The Workforce Transition to Electric Vehicles

The Workforce Transition to Electric Vehicles
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The electric vehicle (EV) industry is not just a burgeoning market—it's a global movement, a testament to a future wrapped in sustainable transportation. With significant investments pouring in and major players ramping up their production capacities, EVs are no longer a part of a distant, green fantasy. They are very much a reality and are fast becoming a core sector for the global economy. However, as the industry surges, so does the need for a skilled workforce to drive this transformation.

 

Riding the Green Wave: the EV Industry Today

The rapid growth of the EV market is propelled by several interlocking trends. In fact, electric car sales in the United States grew from a mere .2% in 2011 to 7.6% in 2023. Many forecasts expect a strong acceleration in EV adoption over the coming years. The S&P Global Mobility forecasts global electric vehicle sales to rise between 39% and more than 50% in 2030, from an estimated 17% in 2023.

Global-EV-Sales

For more information about the automotive industry and EV preparedness, download the free North American Automotive Industry e-book here.

 

Contributing Factors: Electric Vehicle Adoption

Consumer interest in cleaner transportation options has surged, driven by several factors. Consumer demand has risen in recent years, including environmental concerns, improved battery capacity, and potential cost-savings. Consumers perceive EVs to be more environmentally friendly and aligned with their goals to improve fuel emissions.

Consumers can choose from a wider range of vehicles, including much larger sizes than previously available. In total vehicle sales, SUVs and trucks still account for more than three quarters of vehicle sales in the United States. Vehicle choice will only continue to expand as EV adoption continues. Range anxiety-the fear of running out of battery before reaching a charging station-has long deterred consumers from buying EVs. However, battery capacity and range have greatly improved, from a median 68 miles in 2011 to 270 miles in 2023. As battery technology increases, so too will range.

Government policies, from subsidies to emissions regulations, have also played a pivotal role in pushing the industry forward. And amidst these shifts, nearshoring has emerged as a strategic tactic for many companies who are seeking to reduce supply chain disruptions and secure talent closer to home.

 

The Electric Vehicle Workforce Pipeline

The increasing demand for electric vehicles translates to a growing need for a specialized workforce. The vehicle electrification trend is expected to generate demand for workforce in three main areas: the design and development of electric vehicle models, the production of batteries that power them, and the installation and maintenance of charging infrastructure. Below is an overview of some of these primary positions that will contribute to the electric vehicle workforce transition. The need for these professionals is not just a future projection; it is the current state of affairs, and the talent pool is in high demand globally.

Workforce employed in the design and development of EVs:

The design of an electric vehicle takes contributions from a variety of engineers and technologists. These range from the mechanical functions of the car to systems and features that improve functions and consumer desirability. Some of them:

  • Software Developers - create the computer applications that run EVs such as battery management systems. As advancements take place, real-time software updates and upgrades will be fundamental to safety and security. As such, the expertise and skills of software developers will be increasingly important. Employment of software developers in the United States is projected to grow by 26% from 2021 to 2031 (BLS, here), much faster than the average for all occupations.
  • Electrical Engineers - develop EV systems and parts, including the motor. They research and improve the vehicle power electronics, and this task will increase as EVs advance technologically. Electrical engineers may also focus on the battery and/or charging technology. Although not high on the list of fastest growing occupations, electrical engineers are already in short supply, and many will retire or otherwise leave the occupation.
  • Electronics Engineers - design electric vehicle control systems and the electronics that enable advanced driver safety systems (ex: infotainment, anti-collision, battery management, etc). More advanced features mean more sophisticated electronics will be incorporated into EVs. Employment of electronics engineers in the United States is expected to grow at 6% between 2021 and 2031 (BLS, here) which is about as fast as the average occupation.
  • Chemical Engineers - design processes and equipment for manufacturing batteries, plan and test production and assembly methodologies, and direct battery-making operations. Additionally, chemical engineers will be supportive in developing methods for recycling EV batteries. Employment in Chemical Engineers in the United States is projected to grow 13.9% between 2021 and 2031 (BLS, here), much faster than the average occupation.

Workforce occupations in EV batter manufacturing:

Employment in other electrical equipment and component manufacturing (NAICS 3359) includes the production of batteries and chargers. It is projected to increase 17% between 2021 and 2031. This makes it one of the fastest growing manufacturing industries of the U.S. economy. Some workforce needed:

  • Production Workforce - include a variety of jobs who assemble batteries, supervise operations, and work in secondary operations such as scheduling, logistics, and services. These jobs typically pool from more general candidates with lower educational requirements, and implement robust on-the-job training.
  • Electrical Assemblers - also include electronic and electromechanical assemblers who build electrical or electronic equipment for motors, batteries and sensing equipment.

The workforce in the NAICS 3359 category (other electrical equipment and component manufacturing) is expected to grow at 21% between 2021 and 2031 (BLS, here).

Workforce involved in charging networks

The demand for charging infrastructure is increasing, both in public as well as home-charging settings. At least one public charger is needed for every 10-15 EVs, even with drivers mainly charging at home. Except for construction workers, the occupations involved in the planning, installation and maintenance of charging infrastructure typically earn far greater than the average occupation in the United States. They are all expected to follow an average growth pattern over the next 10 years (BLS, here).

  • Urban and Regional Planners - ensure the optimal placement of charging infrastructure. They consider factors such as driver convenience, and overall placement and proximity of infrastructure.
  • Electricians - hold an integral position in the roll-out of the EV charging infrastructure. They are directly involved in the installation of chargers and the associated infrastructure. They are also responsible for maintenance and repair of equipment.
  • Electrical Power-line Installers - connect the EV charging station sites to the power grid. They may be also needed to upgrade existing infrastructure or expand grid capacity to accommodate higher electricity demands.
  • Construction Workers - are involved in site preparation work needed for the installation of wiring, conduit and charging units. These are not typically specialized individuals, working with concrete, trenches, boring, paving, etc.

 

Harvesting Talent Through Nearshoring

According to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, the U.S. could require up to 3.8 million new manufacturing jobs will be needed between 2024 and 2033. Roughly 1.9 million of those could remain unfilled if current labor gaps remain unsolved.

electric-vehicle-workforce-talent

Manufacturing in the U.S. is seeing a shift in the skills needed for its workforce. There has been a significant rise in graduates from bachelor's programs like computer and information sciences and engineering, which are highly relevant to modern manufacturing. Additionally, there's been an upsurge in mechanical and repair technologies degrees, along with precision production programs. This growth, likely fueled by the post-pandemic uptick from 2021-2022, suggests a renewed focus on these critical areas. However, programs preparing graduates for higher-skilled roles, such as engineering technologists and transport/material moving specialists, haven't seen the same level of growth.

Electric-vehicle-workforce-change-in-engineers

 

Nearshoring in the EV Industry

Nearshoring, the practice of transferring a business operation to a nearby country, offers a unique solution to this challenge. By tapping into the talent pools in nearby regions, companies can benefit from the geographic and cultural proximity, leading to shorter lead times, higher quality and flexibility, and lower costs. In the context of the EV industry, nearshoring can be especially advantageous as it allows for more streamlined control and optimization of the entire production process.

Several factors contribute to a region being favorable for nearshoring in the EV industry. A robust educational system, a focus on engineering and technical skills, and a supportive business environment are paramount. An abundant supply of interested and capable talent, combined with incentives to attract foreign investment, makes a compelling case for nearshoring to these regions. The electric vehicle workforce preparedness will be an important criteria for investments in the sector.

Expanding operations into a new region is not without its challenges. A tailored approach to talent development, including partnerships with local educational institutions and the implementation of apprentice programs, can help ensure that the electric vehicle workforce is ready to meet the specific demands of the industry. Companies that successfully harness these strategies will not only secure a competitive edge but will also contribute to the growth and sustainability of the industry.

An important destination in the nearshoring trend of electric vehicle manufacturing is Mexico. Its geographical proximity, integrated supply chains and robust workforce make it an ideal country for investors in the sector. It's electric vehicle workforce preparedness has been at the center of strategic initiatives for some years.

Mexico's New Generation of EV Talent

At the heart of the electromobility revolution is STEM employment. These include workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that develop complex problem-solving and critical thinking skills. As mentioned above, these roles will be focused on software engineering, cybersecurity and electrical engineering. According to Mexico's Economy Secretary over 83,000 engineers graduated with a focus on electronics, industrial, mechanical, construction, and chemical processes.

Mexican-STEM-Graduates

Notably, Mexico is the 7th largest vehicle manufacturer, and the 5th largest exporter of autoparts (leading supplier to the U.S.). Talent in Mexico have allowed the country to become a strategic line of operation for multinationals. Since 2020, the National College of Technical Professional Education (CONALEP) has had a technical course designed in collaboration with the private sector to convert vehicles from internal combustion engines to electrification. For example, CONALEP in the state of Coahuila integrated subjects in the Autotronics and Industrial Maintenance careers in conjunction with General Motors and John Deere.

Recently, Mexico's General Director of Industrial Technological Education announced 10 new educational degrees starting in 2024. Among them include degrees related to artificial intelligence, electromobility, cybersecurity, robotics and automation, international business, and tourism innovation and management. Similarly to the United States, young people are changing their interests in career paths as well as willingness to study or work a traditional 9-5 job. Public-private initiatives focus on both cutting-edge curriculums as well as flexibility.

Building on Common Ground: Allyshoring the Electric Vehicle Workforce

Mexico has long been a strategic ally to the United States for manufacturing and advanced industrial talent. The transition to electromobility will increase the need for metalmechanic and fabrication of components such as moldes, dies, and especially lithion ion batteries. Mexico continues to collaborate with its USMCA partners to continuously improve and develop the goods and systems within the regional supply chains. Mexico continues to strengthen their comparative advantage in the regional relationship, boasting an abundance of young talent, trained on systems and technologies aligned with the United States.

This collaboration within North America offers a multitude of benefits. By working together, countries can ensure a reliable flow of critical goods and materials. Imagine jointly producing essential medical supplies or fostering research and development in key sectors. This not only bolsters national security but also strengthens regional economies.

Ally-shoring goes beyond simple trade. It emphasizes long-term partnerships, fostering trust and open communication. Mexico and the United States, for example, already have a strong foundation for collaboration built on decades of co-production. By leveraging this existing framework and including Canada, North America can become a powerhouse of innovation and manufacturing.

Read more about the US-Mexico relationship in this blog post by Emilio Cadena.

Conclusion: the Road Ahead for the EV Industry Workforce

The electric vehicle industry is at a critical juncture. The push for cleaner transportation options has created an unprecedented need for skilled professionals across the entire value chain. By strategically leveraging the nearshoring approach, companies can secure the talent necessary to drive the EV industry forward. The race to electrify the world's roads is not just about cutting-edge technology; it's also about empowering the people who will build and maintain the vehicles of tomorrow.

Prodensa is working with organizations in Mexico to connect company demand to educational initiatives in the public and private sectors. Our deep network and specialized Institutional Relations team plays a strategic role in make public-private partnerships successful. The best way to prepare for the electromobility revolution, is to help build it.

Prodensa-Robin-Conklen

Written from insights obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, here.

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