The surge in electric vehicle (EV) sales across Australia is triggering seismic changes in the automotive industry, and it’s meant more mechanics are learning new skills to service the changing fleet.

EVs made up more than 7 per cent of new car sales in Australia in 2023, and there are now more than 170,000 EVs on Australian roads, according to the federal government.

But the uptick in popularity has only been relatively recent, raising questions about whether there’ll be enough technicians who can work on EVs, and how their job will look in coming years.

After working on petrol and diesel engine cars for more than 30 years, Sydney mechanic Gerry Marson made the switch to EV maintenance about five years ago.

While there were only very few EVs on Australian roads at that stage, he could see it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

“A lot of talk was going on, very low volumes of electric cars were around, but I could see that eventually that was going to have to change, and it has,” Mr Marson said.

He now runs a workshop in Western Sydney solely for EV and hybrid cars, and has seen business steadily ramping up.

Getting the new skills wasn’t cheap – he went to the US for specialist training which set him back thousands of dollars – but he said it has put him at the forefront of an evolving industry.

“For older technicians like myself, some are waiting to retire, pretty much, [but] it’s going to be difficult to attract young talent and for them to train up extensively in the industry,” he said.

Focus on upskilling and retaining existing workforce

With the volume of EV maintenance to grow rapidly, many in the automotive and vocational education sectors are now working to bridge the gap.

Ian Price, who oversees EV training courses with the Motor Traders Association of NSW, is focusing on both teaching new mechanics, and upskilling existing ones.

“They know that they’ve got to keep up, they can’t lag behind,” Mr Price said.

“There certainly is a pathway for the technicians, regardless of age, to upskill and become competent working on these battery electric vehicles.”

Many in the industry are quick to dispel any notion that electric vehicles could make automotive repair jobs obsolete.

The Kangan Institute, based in Victoria, has about 3,000 automotive apprentices who are learning to work on both internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) and EVs.

The institute’s automotive education manager Gavin Cribb said many of the skills used in ICEV maintenance were easily transferable.

“We’re finding that it’s an evolution, not a revolution,” Mr Cribb said.

“We still need to have the base understanding of your physics, suspension, internal components and so on.”

And it’s not just light vehicle mechanics who are gearing up for the transition – the Kangan Institute is running a TAFE course in Victoria on how to inspect and maintain electric buses.

EV owners reassured about industry readiness

The entire automotive sector has been grappling with an ongoing skills shortage, but EV owners are being assured the industry will be able to cope with growing demand.

Mr Cribb said because the vast majority of EVs were still quite new, the need for major repairs was minimal.

“We’re not quite at the stage where additional EV skills are mandatory for a workshop – for some of them it’s a nice-to-have,” he said.

“The industry’s smart enough and adaptable enough that they’ll just take it on the chin and move along with it.”

Ian Price from the Motor Traders Association of NSW also noted mechanics have been working on hybrid vehicles for about 20 years.

“There is a scare factor out there at the moment, but the point is that the cars are safe, they can be worked on safely, and people are geared up and ready to go,” he said.

Mr Marson said there would still be plenty of work for ICEV technicians for the foreseeable future.

“Probably for another decade, we’ll probably have quite enough ICEVs still around in the industry that will keep those shops resistant to EV, but as the market drops off, they may then look at EVs more seriously,” he said.

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