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How Germans Are Helping Pittsburgh Auto Techs Work on EVs

As electric vehicle sales continue to grow and car manufacturers set voluntary electric vehicle targets, automotive dealers and technicians in Pennsylvania say a service void has started forming.

(TNS) — As electric vehicle sales continue to grow and car manufacturers set voluntary electric vehicle targets, automotive dealers and technicians in Pennsylvania see a void forming.

And they're asking: Who's going to service these cars?

"We've heard from several dealers that they're behind the ball on this," said Rachel Mauer, president of the German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh chapter. "And that the volume of electric vehicles is going to increase and they just were not prepared to have in-house technicians to service these vehicles."

The Pittsburgh chapter is one organization stepping up to prepare current and prospective automotive technicians as electric vehicles gain traction across the U.S. In partnership with the Community College of Allegheny County, they are developing an EV Automotive Technician apprenticeship program.

Open to those with previous automotive experience, the program aims to mimic the EV training model used in Germany, which has been leading the electric vehicle charge since 2013, Ms. Mauer said.

"We're a little bit behind Germany," she said. "How do you train technicians for something that's coming up and do it safely? Because we're talking about high voltage. So it's not just a minor skill set, but a very difficult skill set that requires a lot of hands-on training, safety, and emphasis. Also, the dealers don't have electric vehicles all the time and you don't want them to work on a live electric vehicle when they've never done so."

Nationally, total electric vehicle sales have more than tripled in three years, from 4% in 2020 to 14% in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. Sales are expected to grow through 2023 with over 2.3 million electric cars sold in the first quarter — 25% more than the same period last year, the IEA reported.

The Chamber's Pittsburgh chapter, is recreating a "German classroom" at CCAC's West Hills Center where technicians will learn the intricacies of electric vehicle servicing, said Jennifer Cowans, the center's executive director.

Apprenticeship instructors in August traveled to Germany where local dealers, technicians and guild members taught them as part of a "train the trainer" program, officials said. Through a partnership with the German organization BMBF — in English, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research — the Chamber and CCAC hosted a German Opel dealership owner and "automotive mechatronic meister" to provide insights in developing the EV program.

"We have a wonderful partnership that is really supporting this transatlantic skills initiative," Ms. Mauer said. "Which is bringing some of the German apprenticeship programs here and helping us model and build them. And the BMBF actually funded the meister to come over. He has a really wonderful perspective and expertise."

Ms. Mauer did not say which local dealerships will partner with the apprenticeship program, but said that "several" will be involved.

Other automotive programs in Pennsylvania have also jumped on the EV bandwagon as demand heightens.

Pennsylvania Technical College introduced an electric vehicle course after multiple discussions with local dealerships, garages, state and college leaders, and other stakeholders, said Steven Keen, the school's assistant dean of transportation technologies, in an email to the Post-Gazette.

"We decided to take a leading position in preparing future technicians for a growing skills gap in the automotive industry," Mr. Keen said. "We have a total of 10 hybrid-electric vehicles: six hybrid and four electric. All of the Automotive Technology students at Pennsylvania College of Technology will learn how to service the electric vehicles as they progress through the program."

Funding for the EV Automotive Technician apprenticeship program comes from grants from the Department of Labor, Ms. Mauer said. Additional support comes from local organizations including Pittsburgh Clean Cities and the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association.

"We're looking at summer 2024 to start enrolling apprentices into the program," Ms. Mauer said. "So we're almost there. The German model has been very successful in keeping apprentices safe, and teaching the skill sets that are really going to be required. Even if it's not the scale of what Germany's looking to have."

© 2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.