Engineer WorkforcePublic Policy Issues

Building the U.S. Electric Vehicle Workforce: The View from Michigan

By IEEE-USA Staff

In May 2022, the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a field hearing in Pontiac, Michigan to hear from witnesses on workforce needs in the mobility, manufacturing and electrification sectors that are critical for the future of that state’s large automotive industry.

The hearing focused on the challenges facing a significant segment of the U.S. labor force, which employs almost 3 million Americans in auto dealerships and manufacturing, with nearly a million Americans in motor vehicle and motor vehicle components manufacturing alone. The automotive sector was severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and associated supply-chain challenges. One outcome was a 30% reduction in auto manufacturing employment between May 2019 and May 2020. Fortunately, employment has largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels and demand continues to grow in the electric vehicle (EV) segment of the auto industry, which needs research scientists and engineers familiar with electric drive train, battery, and recharging technologies, as well as manufacturing workers and maintenance technicians.

As electric vehicles become more prevalent, the demand for professionals with unique skill sets is growing, and producing demand for specialized training. On the design and development end, the automotive industry is looking for engineers and engineering technicians, software developers, and industrial designers. In particular, they need professionals to design, test and integrate components to produce new products and to evaluate design effectiveness, cost, reliability and safety.

The Research and Technology Subcommittee heard from several witnesses, including Jennifer Mefford, national co-chair of the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP). EVITP evolved out of an industry-wide collaboration between automakers, utility providers, charging station manufacturers, safety professionals, electricians and other stakeholders to address the needs and best practices for building the charging infrastructure needed to support the growing EV market. In addition, to install an estimated 50,000 charging stations in the state, electricians will also be in heavy demand to retrofit the 60-100 amp electrical service found in most homes throughout the state to support EV charging at home. To meet the projected demand for electrician services, EVITP supports apprenticeship training and certification programs.

Ben Cruz, director of the Center for Advanced Automotive Technology (CAAT) at Macomb Community College in Macomb County, Michigan, highlighted the schools programs in vehicle engineering technology, automotive manufacturing and leadership. He emphasized the critical partnerships with the local engineering centers and manufacturing facilities maintained by Tier One EV system and component suppliers to the automotive industry, such as MAGNA, BorgWarner, Jabil, Bosch, American Axle, Contemporary Amperex Technologies, Continental, and Roush Industries. Their input helps CAAT identify what’s needed in terms of courses and training programs in emerging technologies, and they enroll their works for retraining and upskilling.

Josh Nassar, a legislative director for the United Auto Workers (UAW), emphasized the importance of the automotive industry to U.S. competitiveness, and noted that the industry is critical to many states and sustains over 7.25 million jobs nationwide. He cautioned the committee that the U.S. automotive workforce faces many challenges, including weak labor laws, trade deals that favored investors over the interests of workers, and federal tax policies that encourage U.S. automakers to shift production overseas. He noted that between January 2006 and January 2021, inflation-adjusted hourly earnings for production workers in auto assembly declined by 21%, while wages in the auto parts sector have decreased by 19%.

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Nassar highlighted the lack of resiliency in U.S. global supply chains as a workforce disrupter, noting that the pandemic-driven shortage of automotive grade semiconductors led to the idling of numerous U.S. plants and layoffs for tens of thousands of manufacturing workers, with ripple effects across the automotive value chain. He communicated UAW’s support for legislation currently pending in Congress to strengthen chip manufacturing in the United States.

He also warned that the United States is lagging behind other nations in the public and private investments needed to make it a competitive player in vehicle electrification, noting that China has invested more than $60 billion to support EV manufacturing and currently produces 60% of the passenger EVs sold around the world and 70% of the battery cells used in EVs. China also controls 80% of the rare earth minerals currently used in EV manufacturing, creating a strong incentive for the U.S. to invest in new technology innovations to reduce dependencies. Other nations are making similar investments, such as South Korea, which is home to LG Chem, the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, with a 24.6% market share.

Marcia Black-Watson, an industry engagement officer with Michigan’s Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity, reported that the shift to EV manufacturing has created more than 15,000 mobility and automotive manufacturing jobs in Michigan since 2019, and that demand for new workers is expected to grow by another 12,000 by 2030. To help support this growth in the state’s economically important automotive sector, Michigan is engaged in a variety of employer-led collaborations with industry, communities and other stakeholders to promote workforce development. Of note is Michigan Alliance for Greater Mobility Advancement (MAGMA), a collaborative established in 2009 to address skills gaps among professional workers, such as technicians and engineers needing training to design and build electric and hybrid vehicles. In 2009, Michigan also helped spearhead the Michigan Energy Workforce Development Consortium (MEWDC) to address workforce issues facing Michigan’s energy industries. The Consortium is supported by more than 20 employers, and has helped train more than 400 apprentices across 18 occupations, including Overhead and Underground Electric Line-Workers, Substation Operations, and Gas Utility Specialists.

To view the hearing and read witness testimonies, go to: https://science.house.gov/building-a-workforce-to-navigate-the-electric-vehicle-future

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