The UK will run out of electric vehicle technicians to service the growing number of the cars on its roads by the end of this decade, according to findings from a think-tank.
The Social Market Foundation (SMF), a cross-party think-tank, is warning of a skills shortfall among mechanics trained to service and repair electric vehicles (EVs). A shortage of qualified technicians risks driving up servicing costs and potentially leaving some drivers unable to have their cars maintained properly.
This shortage could undermine work to decarbonise the automotive industry in the UK, the SMF warns. However, it could also create an opportunity for an increase in more skilled jobs, which could be filled by up-and-coming technicians.
The number of EVs on UK’s roads is rapidly increasing, and recently reached one million. However, the number of skilled electric vehicle technicians that can service such cars is not keeping pace with this growth, SMF analysis shows.
The SMF report highlights industry estimates that by 2027 there will not be enough qualified technicians to maintain all of Britain’s EVs. By 2030, the country could face a shortfall of 25,000 qualified electric vehicle technicians.
The SMF is calling for the UK government to step up work to prepare the British workforce for net-zero, supporting efforts to recruit and train more workers with the skills needed to maintain EVs. Those skills needed by electric vehicle technicians are significantly different to those required to maintain internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
Different training needed for electric vehicle technicians
As EV maintenance involves working with high-voltage electricity systems, the ICE approach of ‘on-the-job’ training may not be appropriate, and could even be dangerous. Dedicated training is therefore needed to turn the vast majority of technicians in the UK into electric vehicle technicians.
“Formalised, professional and accredited training routes to prepare technicians for EV repair and maintenance are needed”, the report said. Reforms should allow more of the money paid by larger employers for the Apprenticeship Levy to be used to fund that training,” the SMF said.
The SMF report is based on interviews with mechanics and technicians and industry experts. It highlights concerns that the skills gap could raise the cost of repairs or reduce the quality of repairs, which would decrease consumers’ willingness to make the switch to EVs.
Forecast gap between predicted EVs on UK roads and IMI TechSafe EV technicians (updated April 2022)
The SMF highlights the limited attention paid to vehicle technicians’ skills in government plans to decarbonise transport. Neither the Department for Education and Department for Transport have examined how growing EV uptake will impact vehicle technicians or developed policies to support workforce growth, with limited numbers of electric vehicle technicians currently working in the UK.
A key challenge identified in the SMF research is attracting new entrants to the sector because of what industry leaders describe as an “image problem” around car maintenance work. Perceptions of that work as dirty, hard and male-dominated deter some would-be recruits from pursuing a career as a mechanic, the SMF found. This would certainly detract potential electric vehicle technicians, even though their work is likely to involve electronics and software more than basic mechanics.
This issue is backed up by research from industry association GIPA. At the recent IAAF Conference, GIPA UK head Quentin Le Hetet stated that in its research, 51% of garages stated that finding qualified staff was their biggest challenge. Overall, 56% of automotive businesses have stated that there was a low number of applications for roles, according to additional data provided by the Office for National Statistics.
The SMF is making several recommendations to the government in its report. These include:
- Improve the attractiveness of the industry. Launch an attractive green careers campaign to get young people and those from underrepresented backgrounds into EV repairs
- Develop a medium-term credible plan to upskill technicians. As part of this strategic planning, manufacturers, industry bodies and training providers should develop a clear accredited training route.
- Release Apprenticeship Levy funds to pay for training of electric vehicle technicians. Key low-carbon industries, including EV repairs, should be central to reform of the Apprenticeship Levy reform to ensure the development of a pipeline of green skills to deliver Net Zero.
- Introduce a mandatory license to operate in the EV repair and maintenance industry. Given the potential hazards involved in working with EVs, a formal qualification should be required, much as, for example, gas heating engineers are required by law to have a Gas Safe certification.
“Electric vehicles are the future of cheaper, greener motoring, but servicing and maintaining them requires a new skills and training,” said Amy Norman, Senior Researcher at Social Market Foundation. “Britain is in real danger of running short of the skilled mechanics and technicians needed to keep EVs on the roads.
“More needs to be done to ensure more workers are getting the skills and training needed to keep Britain on the road to Net Zero. That means better policies to support skills and training, including more creative use of Apprenticeship Levy funds.
“It also means doing more to attract recruits into this vital trade. The men and women who train to keep millions of EVs running smoothly should be seen as green heroes helping Britain speed towards a cleaner future.”