Bridging the skills gap for EV infrastructure installation

In our efforts to consistently expand and deepen our understanding of the UK’s various sectors and their skills requirements, we hosted an enlightening round table with experts in EV (electric vehicles).

11 April 2022

The purpose of the round table was to unpack the challenges faced by the UK industry on its journey toward 0% transport-related carbon emissions by 2030. This target can be summed up as follows:

  • The UK government will phase out the sale of new petrol- and diesel-fuelled vehicles by the year 2030 and hybrids by 2035.
  • The market shift toward electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles is already well underway. One in six new vehicles sold in the UK had a plug. Hybrid vehicles will decline as we move toward the 2030 mark.
  • To meet the demands of this change, EV charging facilities need to be installed across the country – in homes, at commercial workplaces, street-side locations, depots and at re-fueling stations.
  • Second-hand petrol and diesel-powered vehicles may still be sold after 2030.

The round table, hosted by Bill Twigg (Senior Policy Advisor, City & Guilds) and Paula Gibson (Strategic Commercial Manager, City & Guilds), explored the government-driven move to electric vehicles. Hosts and panelists discussed the infrastructure requirements for such a transformation, and what it will take to ensure that electrical workforces are equipped with the relevant skills to facilitate these developments.

Our panel of experts included:

  • Abdul Choudhury – Senior Policy Advisor, Energy Technology and Innovation at the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV)
  • Luke Osborne – Energy and Emerging Technologies Solutions Advisor at the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA)
  • Craig McDermott – National Installation Manager at Connected Kerb Ltd
  • Paul Nichols – Global Technical Lead EV Charging at Shell Mobility Network Engineering

The growing pains of an entire industry evolution

Opening the discussion, Twigg says, “New electric vehicle sales are on the rise. This is the fastest growing and highest-impact market change this generation has seen and it’s exciting! The challenge is that the skills required to install infrastructure are in high demand. Reports show that in the last 30 days, only 800 chargers were installed, and 100 rapid chargers were installed, countrywide. At this rate, we cannot expect to meet the requirements set for the government’s 2030 goal.”

The production of EV charging kits is soldiering on, and government grants – which are now being shifted to support more challenging markets, such as rented housing – continue to make a significant impact on installation costs for domestic and small commercial end-users. However, as an entire industry evolves, the challenges are complex.

Our roundtable panel offered valuable perspective on many of these issues and potential solutions. We highlight a few key concerns here.

Will innovation cause more harm than good?

At the current rate of innovation by car manufacturers – such as wireless charging undergoing tests – concerns were raised around standardised charging facilities not being able to cater for new technologies. According to Choudhury, innovation and development are encouraged, although it must be acknowledged that new technology may place additional demands on training, updating infrastructure, and implementing regulations.

Despite this, OZEV supports key stakeholders in the market and notes that this challenge can be overcome by partnering with those stakeholders, facilitating open dialogue about their developments, and gaining insight on catering to new technologies.

Are enough new workers entering the electrical industry?

Osborne notes that the sector has faced a skills gap for some time. However, he further points out that there are currently 35,000 electrical apprentices in training.

Osborne also observes with confidence that the demand is plentiful – employment and apprenticeship opportunities are available: “It’s up to government, educators and organisations to do more to create awareness, particularly towards parents that this is a credible industry for young people of all demographics. This industry can be entered into and succeeded at without incurring the costs and debt of obtaining a degree.”

“It’s not just cables and sockets,” quips Osborne. “It’s innovation, technology and programming. And it’s being part of the solution to the problem of climate change, which young people are very engaged with.”

Is the existing workforce skilled in safe EV installation?

This was arguably the biggest question raised at the City & Guilds EV round table discussion, supported by examples of poor installation practice and un-trained electrical workers. Two undesirable scenarios potentially play out:

  • Untrained workers install EV charging devices incorrectly, resulting in damages, losses or injuries to the public.
  • Limited numbers of trained electricians install EV charging devices at a far slower rate and fail to meet 2030 targets.

Speaking of the situation at Connected Kerb, McDermott says, “Upskilling is a long process, which leaves us with a skills shortage problem that is difficult to address in the short-term. By 2030, we’re expected to have installed 190,000 EV chargers – we need a really good team for that. But we’re not cutting corners. For us, safety always comes first.”

McDermott goes on to postulate the value of training and upskilling experienced workers: “If we had a governing qualification that covered all the standards, requirements and regulations in EV charging point installations, and if I saw that qualification on a candidate’s CV, I’d be very interested in meeting that person!”

Chasing short-term solutions: Bring skills into line with regulations

The discussion highlighted that we are on a positive trajectory with industry adapting to delivering new technologies. The challenge is to upskill the sector en masse to deliver on volume of work needed and ensure ongoing compliance with standards.

Nichols commented, “We don’t want to limit the number of workers on board but, for safety reasons, we must have the right skills on board. I’d like to see training that addresses this with our existing, experienced workers, as well as new recruits. We’re delighted to see City & Guilds taking such a proactive approach in investing in that.”

In closing, Twigg notes that this is essentially a ‘new industry’, which requires new understanding. Although the market may have fallen behind, perhaps due to the initial misperception that ‘electric vehicles aren’t going to catch on’, we are presented with the challenges and opportunities of making this momentous change, for the better of our entire planet.

Find out more about City & Guilds qualifications for careers in electrical roles and EV infrastructure.

Access the full round table discussion recording, or if you’re short on time view a 5-minute summary of the discussion.