Comment: Don’t let skills challenges squander UK EV advantage

With EV sales on track for rapid growth, UK automotive manufacturers should adopt new technologies in the race to develop the skills and competencies they’ll need, writes PTC’s Elliot Clarke.

Adobe Stock

UK adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is beating all predictions and the pace shows no signs of flagging. Customers are increasingly clamouring for EVs, thanks to greater vehicle choice, shorter charging times and longer ranges. That’s why it’s never been more urgent for UK automotive manufacturers to consider their strategy for developing the skills and competencies they will need to get EVs across the winning line. 

It’s incredible how quickly the market is moving in the direction of electrification. While overall UK car production was down in 2022, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Britain’s automotive factories churned out a record 234,066 battery electric (BEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid electric vehicles, up 4.5 per cent year on year and representing almost one third (30 per cent) of all car production.

Meanwhile, a recent study from management consultancy Ernst & Young and European electricity industry body Eurelectric predicts that there are expected to be 2.5 million annual sales of BEVs and PHEVs by 2030, making up 93 per cent of the UK’s total vehicle sales.

But there’s no escaping the fact that getting new powertrains on the road demands significantly different skills from those required in an industry dominated by the internal combustion engine (ICE). Back in January 2023, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) reported that only 16% of technicians in the UK had the relevant qualifications to work on EVs - and that’s just for repair and maintenance. Add manufacturing to the mix and you’re looking at a serious skills deficit. That deficit, if not tackled, might even hamper this market in reaching its full potential.

XHEAD: The reskilling imperative

Make no mistake: reskilling and upskilling must be part of the picture, because the inward flow of new entrants to the sector simply won’t be enough for manufacturers to fulfil demand for EVs.

In recognition of this, many forward-thinking automakers are collaborating with universities, further education colleges and professional training providers to develop tailored learning and development courses for existing employees.

For example, Coventry University is currently helping 1,200 Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) engineers learn the key skills in electric vehicle development and drive the company forward through new bespoke courses. The courses will help JLR specify BEV components, perform verification and validation activities and integrate high voltage components and systems into complete electric vehicles.

At PTC, we also see a bright future for augmented reality (AR) technologies in getting employees up to speed on EV design and development. In fact, we’ve already worked with automotive companies including Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and Volvo Trucks to implement our AR technology Vuforia in their factories.

The difference between this kind of AR/VR-enabled training and instruction versus classroom learning is that it can be delivered at the point of requirement — in other words, right on the factory floor.

((XHEAD)) The AR advantage

AR works by superimposing digital information onto the user’s view of real-world objects and environments. That’s powerful, because presenting information when and where employees need it most reduces cognitive load and boosts knowledge retention.

For employees, it’s empowering to work at their own pace through precise, in-context instructions for completing complex tasks that help to improve the quality and accuracy of their work. For their employers, more effective AR-based training tactics can improve the time-to-productivity of employees learning new skills. They also provide an opportunity to capture input related to specific tasks and procedures that can provide a launchpad for future process improvement.

And it isn’t just electrification that employers in the sector need to consider when assessing their skills needs. Automotive manufacturing is also being transformed by greater connectivity and autonomy of vehicles and the need to operate smarter, more sustainable factories. We see AR/VR-enabled instruction playing a key role in helping automotive engineers develop new, career-enhancing skills in areas such as configuring robots for the factory floor, completing quality checks and documenting inspection results.

According to the SMMT, the UK automotive industry has already invested more than £11 billion in local EV production, and it’s clearly paying off. But without a concerted effort on reskilling and upskilling, that investment could be at risk. With all the signs pointing in the direction of lengthy and sustained acceleration, it would be a national tragedy to squander the UK’s EV advantage at this early stage.

Elliot Clarke is a regional sales director for PTC UK & Ireland