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ZEV automotive technician career opportunity strong, says Tesla at E4 meeting

By November 13, 2020 No Comments

Talent pipelines and diversity were discussed at the e4 meeting Nov 12th, on the topic of “Cool Jobs in a Hot Industry:  Tesla and ZEVs.”

The meeting’s purpose was to advance equitable access to well-paying jobs in the growing LA County EV industry, while helping businesses grow and create more jobs.  Hosted by Center for a Competitive Workforce and LAEDC’s e4 Mobility Alliance, the meeting brought together community college and other education professionals with industry experts and other stakeholders to work towards common goals. The featured speaker was Tony Sciarra, Workforce Development and Education Program Manager at Tesla.

The breadth of the electric vehicle (EV) and broader advanced transportation ecosystem in Southern California is unique in the world.  LA County is home to a broad range of local, growing companies that are designing and manufacturing vehicles, software, charging infrastructure and more.  And there is a lot of economic activity in the supporting ecosystem, which includes utilities like Southern California Edison (SCE) as well as suppliers and more.  In all, the sector directly employs 120,000 people in Southern California, and is on a strong growth trajectory.  [Learn more about the EV industry in SoCal by reading LAEDC’s 2020 report HERE]

Richard Verches, Executive Director of Center for a Competitive Workforce (CCW) opened the meeting by noting that the community college system in LA County offers pathways into these careers and are supported by manufacturers such as Tesla, which need a supply of talent.  He noted that the partnership that Center for a Competitive Workforce creates between employers and the colleges informs our colleges on the changes occurring in the industry to align college programs with the needs of businesses like Tesla, which improve talent pathways into careers.  CCW is working on this industry-education partnership across many industries, and businesses have a great opportunity to develop talent pipelines by contacting CCW.

Judy Kruger, LAEDC Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives asked attendees to look forward to EV policy discussions that LAEDC will host in January and beyond, sponsored by SCE.  She said that LA County is leading the industry not only with businesses and jobs but also with goals and supporting policy.

Bill Allen, LAEDC CEO spent a few minutes encouraging viewers to support the new Safer at Work campaign which LAEDC is launching in coordination with County of Los Angeles, so that our economy can remain safely open by following protocols responsibly.  This important campaign is primarily for smaller businesses in the region, their staff, and their customers and clients.  If the COVID spread continues to grow, we could see many sectors close down again.  We can give more of our businesses a fighting chance to stay open through the winter by reminding everyone to be safer at work.  There’s a role for all of us in the broader community.  Learn more when the official website launches on November 17th.

 

Tesla’s Tony Sciarra, Workforce Development and Education Program Manager was the featured speaker and he addressed the ongoing talent needs at Tesla and the thriving community college program that provides the necessary training.

Tony started by saying Tesla’s goal is to accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy. “When we build programs we try to use that as our guiding star,” he said.  “We look at programs from a multifaceted perspective, cars, energy generation, energy storage, and the future.” He said that Tesla’s START service technician program is low hanging fruit in this endeavor.

He explained why the training program was developed, “We were training everyone in one location, and so our technicians didn’t get all the opportunities,” which are geographically spread out.  “We are hiring at a very rapid pace and it makes it difficult to find good talent, and we need people who can be productive.  We need a training pipeline, coming out of school, coming out of the military, and graduates from automotive tech programs such as Rio Hondo College.” He emphasized background in electro-mechanical, mentioned people are returning to school from the field, and that is great because Tesla and the START program are seeking candidates with industry experience.

“There are a lot of people who have mechanical experience but not electrical,”  and there are a lot of auto industry folks without basic electrical knowledge.  So a robust curriculum to turn students into trained techs needs a fundamentals background.  These skills are transferrable too, which builds career prospects regardless of where people work in the future.  “Safety is a big focus for us,” he said referring to electrical system safety protocols. “This training program has become a huge aspect of this company because we now have 119 service centers.”  He said Tesla wants to increase diversity, and while the company is making progress, they want to accelerate and are working hard to build strong diversity and inclusion practices.   “It makes for good business too.”  For example, “a good mix of men and women creates a much better learning dynamic in the classroom.”  He indicated grads from the program have an 85% placement rate.

“This program is intense, but we are trying to raise the bar and we want to supercharge these candidates.”  Tesla has eight full-time instructors and all its programs have a paid direct employee of Tesla to help the programs along.  Tony said that next Tesla is considering training programs in other verticals like energy and manufacturing sectors.  He touted the opportunity to work with community colleges to solve Tesla’s talent needs.  “We are selfishly training candidates to upskill our workforce, and the community colleges expand our reach and effect change, helping people to work for a company like Tesla,” which was recognition that the community colleges have a very diverse workforce and help the company’s DEI goals.  “We want change… so we are filling our pipeline with the people and diversity we want. We are really proud of the work we are doing.”

In program applicants, “We look for basic knowledge of electrical fundamentals.  Ohms law, parallel series circuits, experience with the mechanical aspects of a vehicle.  It isn’t rocket science…we’re just being very intentional about it.”

Judy Kruger asked about Tesla’s success finding and enrolling female trainees, and Tony said it is partly about pounding the pavement, allowing the company’s female techs be ambassadors.

Tony talked about Tesla’s tight partnership with Rio Hondo College, and looking at the nation, “We tend to favor colleges which have auto tech programs, who are near major metro areas, and we also look for colleges that can push the envelope, in terms of rollout speed, like a 6-month rollout of a program which is hard for many colleges.”  Having deans and faculty who are persistent is a key determinant of success.

Richard Verches, CCW

Caroline Torosis, County of Los Angeles WDACS

Qiana Charles, Southern California Edison

PANEL DISCUSSION:

Professor John Frala, Rio Hondo College, started by mentioning the wide range of alternative fuels and EV technologies in Rio Hondo’s program.  The program is 25 years old now, and was the first to offer an associates degree in alt fuels and related auto technology.  “We put the degree together and industry jumped all over it.  A lot of our grads are working for various metro transit agencies and in transit industry jobs.  We went from diesel to CNG to electric and now some hydrogen fuel cell bus technologies.”  John agreed with Tony about the value of having gender diversity, saying that the female mind is so different, they do things differently on the job and their contribution is very valuable.  “We have about 17% females in the program and they place well in all kinds of jobs at dealerships, in management at various facilities and they help start other programs.  Veterans are also important, we give additional funding tools and equipment to veterans along with scholarships.”  Edison Foundation has provided funding for scholarships, including for middle school students.  “We also have strong support in our campus in our administration.”  John described the 12-week program, which meets 6-days a week and is very intense.  They work side by side with working techs, and are paid to be an intern, earning $20/hr to be a paid intern.  “We also have the Global Lights program that is preparing to support electric semis (Volvo), and  CARB and AQMD sponsored that program.”  He said Newsom’s announcement about moving to zero emissions transit has increased demand.  “We are hiring more teachers.  During pandemic we are continuing to move ahead.”

Caroline Torosis, with County of Los Angeles WDACS, who is focused on workforce development added to the panel.  “We are hyper focused in promoting DEI in all sectors of our economy, especially in our green economy.  We won’t meet our climate goals without re-envisioning our workforce, in EVs, and in all our infrastructure projects.  We work with employers who provide a family sustaining wage with careers, especially green careers to support our sustainability plan.  We see the solution of climate through an equity lens and want to build out training programs, and work on advocacy and training partnerships.   Committed employers need to be at the table, and we want them to have the same goals as us.”

Carolyn continued, “We ask employers to consider a different type of employee than they might typically consider,” and support the effort to grow local talent, which needs our community college system.  She talked about EV bus manufacturer Proterra which chose City of Industry to locate its manufacturing plant.  They found that when they came to LA they couldn’t find entry level employees because they needed technical skills with systems like wiring harnesses.  “So we have been working with them including Citrus College, and now over 20 students are experiencing a green career pathway.“ Some of these trainees are formerly homeless, or justice involved or veterans and others who may have experienced barriers to employment.  This is a priority not only for County but for the State.  More apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing are helping these people.  Community-based organizations have been helpful, because having trusted community partners at the table helps with job training, to help stabilize lives of these people.

Additionally, County has partnered with our unions, Building Trades related to construction and at Proterra (which is unionized), United Steelworkers and LA Labor Fed.  “We are looking to figure out where the skills gaps are and the opportunities for diversity, and we prioritize those things.  Local hire requirements are one tool.  Soft skill development is also important to prepare people for apprenticeship opportunities.” County leverages federal workforce dollars to help subsidize these training programs.

Judy Kruger said that professional services firms that work with these employers are part of the ecosystem so we can focus on the broader ecosystems as well, and introduced Qiana Charles of Southern California Edison, who said, “Our focus at SCE is on leading the transformation of how energy is produced, stored and used.   One of the key components is electrification of the transportation sector.  We are plugging in more cars, trucks, vehicles and equipment into a cleaner electric supply.  We can be intentional about inclusion and equity as we build this clean energy economy.”   Access to the technology is important she said, “these charging stations need to be in homes, apartments, workplaces and elsewhere,” so these charging stations are being installed via programs like SCE’s Charge Ready 2 program, the largest light duty charging infrastructure program in the nation.  “Over the next 4 years we have a goal of funding $130 million to install chargers, with the goal of installing 38,000 chargers in our service territory.  And with DEI as motivation, SCE is also investing in multi-dwelling housing and in areas with a lot of traffic and bordering transportation corridors that are environmentally impacted communities.  “So we are being intentional about where we install these charging infrastructure.  Our goals are achievable if we collaborate with all the organizations that have a role.”

Our ecosystem that we have here is unique.  How do we sustain that?  What are the challenges with job pipeline and how can we all help?

Tony:  Trained workforce is key.  The program needs applicants with some of the basic skills outlined earlier.

John:  we talk to a lot of people outside the program, sit on panels, committees, the workforce development boards, we try to find out what skills are needed and adjust programs.  We bring in OEMs to talk to all our students.  We help students set a game plan to improve skills to reapply to the program if they don’t get in the first time.  We also assist in retraining, like workers from other sectors, …we can’t forget to talk to those people we are training these students for.

Caroline:  “We need more John Frala’s and we need more Tesla’s and we need more SCE’s!”  She talked about the need for programs that can scale, and identifying the skills gaps so we can bring in the right curriculum, such as for Proterra.  “We need a consortia of employers not just one.  If you are an employer please talk to me.”

Qiana: “I would also add that consumer adoption is important.  It has to be a product that everyone can afford.”  She said community based organizations can help SCE identify barriers to adoption.  We need to inform communities of color or who are impacted by health disparities about health benefits of EVs.  SCE is investing $1 million in a pilot program to expand skilled craft workers, targeting African Americans to help improve DEI.  In summary she said the key factors are market adoption and deployment, chargers, taking anxiety out of the consumer mindset, and developing pilot programs that bring diverse communities into the talent pipeline.

Judy: e4 has done a lot around market adoption and underserved communities, like for test drives, to learn what it’s like to use the charging equipment, to help folks understand there are career opportunities. People say, “Maybe I can see myself as a technician” if they get that exposure.

Is Rio Hondo thinking of expanding the program into related technologies?

John:  We are looking at expanding our training to meet other energy needs, like battery storage pathways for technicians who aren’t working on cars, installation of charging stations, and we are looking forward to talking more about it.

The panel closed with the concept that people interested in these careers need to know some fundamentals, have passion and embrace innovation.