There is a need to train apprentices in the automotive skills of yesteryear (like stripping down a carby) as well as the skills of the future — where cars increasingly become computers on wheels. A lot of knowledge has gone from mechanical to electrical. However, you still need the foundational knowledge. Yes, your car might drive itself, but the servo motor isn’t much use if your ball joint collapses.
TAFE Queensland is working to keep Australia’s workforce ahead of global trends and abreast of new technology. I recently toured the facility and interviewed a manager there.
Even though the Queensland TAFE campus was sparsely populated with students, the end of the year has not yet brought peace and quiet. TAFE Queensland Light Automotive Business Manager Shawn O’Sullivan was generous with his time as we chatted about the challenges for TAFE keeping Australia’s workforce ahead of global trends. We also walked around the state-of-the-art facility for automotive training.
On arrival at the sprawling campus, I was directed to his office by one of the teachers who is converting a Corina to electric — a fitting introduction I thought. O’Sullivan was busy in his office organizing Skills Assessment and Gap Training. TAFE has identified that the two greatest needs for mechanics that are already qualified in the field are training in air conditioning and hybrid vehicle (HEV) maintenance.
Sullivan tells me there is no difference in the training that they give for HEVs and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles). He says that they have over 250 apprentices and qualified mechanics coming through for gap training in hybrid maintenance per year. HEV training is an elective (AVR 30616 — Light Vehicle; AVR 30316 — Auto Electrical). The number one issue is to teach safety — don’t cut the orange cord! With a 100% battery electric vehicle (BEV), the emphasis is to de-power, then service and maintenance.
An industry priority is retention of staff, so TAFE seeks to provide pathways. Not just a transition into the future for light vehicles, but pathways through the industry for the personnel — from mechanical, to parts, to sales, etc. TAFE is working with employers to provide growth, opportunity, and retention. Their students need a life path — they are more than just mechanics.
Sullivan’s industry background comes from Toyota. Toyota has been very supportive of the campus, with many donated vehicles and parts for the students to work with (including two very nice Lexus hybrids).
The challenge is developing courses for training at a time of rapid and deep change. The qualifications for BEV training are under development and may take 18 months before they can be implemented. BEV maintenance crosses many fields, and regulations for implementation are still being developed. In the mining industry, there is some discussion about whether parts of the job are the responsibility of a mechanic or an electrician (and we won’t even mention software).
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What do you do when a mechanical apprentice from Tesla presents for training? He was struggling to get his qualifications because of lack of opportunity to work on assessable parts of a car. He had no experience with transmissions, ignition, and engine management. Thankfully, TAFE was able to organize some work experience for him and get him through.
TAFE Queensland has just completed a training program for 10 TAFE teachers from New South Wales. They will return home and train their teachers, a process that will ripple out as TAFE seeks to develop qualifications, skill sets, and micro credentials for the 4th Industrial Revolution.
From an unpublished presentation to the Electric Bus Council by Shawn O’Sullivan: “The automotive industry is gearing up for its biggest challenge to date — the need to retrain technicians to service the electric/hybrid vehicles which are set to deluge the sector.”
While we are transitioning to electric transport, there is still a need to teach the skills needed to maintain the current fleet. I came away confident that TAFE was working hard to make sure the public can be confident that no matter what drivetrain they choose to use, there will be qualified people to maintain it.
Images courtesy of David Waterworth