EV tech training program at Alberta college gets $850,000 boost from RBC

The EV technician training program at southern Alberta’s largest technical institute has received a $850,000 donation from the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) to help ease the critical shortage of EV service technicians across the country.

RBC announced the donation at the Calgary-based Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (SAIT) transportation industry night March 23.

Aaron Young, RBC vice-president of automotive financing for RBC, said the investment aims to support Canada’s transition to more sustainable transportation by increasing resources to educate EV technicians.

Noting the critical shortage of automotive technicians, Young said RBC recognizes the complexity of recruiting and retaining technicians.

He also said the company hopes to boost the recruitment of women, who comprise just eight per cent of student technicians across Canada.

The gift will boost both the technology and staffing needed to advance SAIT’s auto technician program, and “accelerate efforts to ensure our graduates have the skills necessary to thrive in the new economy,” said Heather Magotiaux, SAIT’s vice-president of external relations.

SAIT auto technician instructor Matt Carpenter said while only five per cent of vehicles on the road are EVs today, the percentage will increase significantly in coming years.

“We have to make sure we are producing graduates who are able to repair all the vehicles on the road,” said Carpenter. The SAIT program typically has 350 students in either its technician diploma or apprentice programs at any given time, he said.

He has spoken to colleagues across Canada about the challenge of recruiting auto technician students, a career path that has been “not that desirable” for current youth. Statistics Canada reports there were 11,645 job vacancies for automotive service technicians in the second quarter of 2022, more than double the 5,730 openings in the previous year.

Meanwhile, there were 3,084 auto service certificates granted to apprentices who completed their programs in 2020 – a 28 per cent drop from the previous year.

“We could probably train 24/7 and still not produce enough grads to match the industry need. It’s very similar across the country,” Carpenter said.  “I think the growth in EVs is starting to rebuild that excitement.”

Jasmine Chu, who is in her final semester of the diploma program, said she took a “leap of faith” when she entered the program but ended up loving her work. Family, fellow students and instructors support her career path.

But Chu noted a career in auto service still carries a stigma. Her workplace, part of a national auto service chain, still has “older gentlemen” co-workers who don’t treat her as an equal, she said.

“I have experienced a lot of misogynistic behaviour,” she said. “Even now, it’s in the remarks they make. They think they’re being funny but they’re not.”

Fellow student Joshua Severson said he chose the auto technician course because, “I didn’t really want to sit behind a desk my whole life.” He said the EV training he’s getting at SAIT is going to be crucial as more electric vehicles come onto the market.

A key component of EV technician training is how to deal with high-voltage vehicles, Carpenter said.

“When you tell someone there’s 300 volts under the cover, even the silliest, goofiest student starts paying attention,” Carpenter said.

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