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College amplifies role in meeting automotive workforce needs

Two representatives of Pennsylvania College of Technology traveled to the nation’s capital on July 13, detailing the institution’s efforts to meet the challenges of recruiting and preparing students for careers as qualified technicians in the increasingly complex world of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Among those sharing their insightful perspectives during the morning roundtable in Washington, D.C., were Bradley M. Webb, Penn College’s dean of engineering technologies, and Christopher J. Holley, an assistant professor of automotive technology.

Bradley M. Webb (left), Pennsylvania College of Technology’s dean of engineering technologies, and Christopher J. Holley, assistant professor of automotive technology, stand outside the U.S. Capitol on July 13. They testified before a congressional caucus about recruiting and preparing students for automotive careers amid a nationwide shortage of qualified technicians. (Photo provided)
Bradley M. Webb (left), Pennsylvania College of Technology’s dean of engineering technologies, and Christopher J. Holley, assistant professor of automotive technology, stand outside the U.S. Capitol on July 13. They testified before a congressional caucus about recruiting and preparing students for automotive careers amid a nationwide shortage of qualified technicians. (Photo provided)

The two were among panelists who appeared in the Rayburn House Office Building before members of the Congressional Automotive Caucus: Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who serves as co-chair, and Mike Carey (R-Ohio).  The bipartisan caucus was begun nearly 40 years ago to advance policies aimed at growth and job creation in America’s auto industry.

Webb addressed why students aren’t enrolling in the automotive field or more generically skilled technical majors, which ultimately leaves a shortfall on the employment end.

“I believe that this is largely because students and parents alike don’t view these careers as lucrative, sustainable or requiring high skills,” he said. “In reality, these academic programs and jobs require problem solving and critical thinking.” Additionally, he noted, they can be quite remunerative, whether at the associate-degree level or with further education and credentials (such as the nationally recognized Automotive Service Excellence certification).

To help combat public misconceptions, Penn College has implemented several programs funded through National Science Foundation grants. Those include teacher externships in such sectors as manufacturing and aviation, and Parents as Partners camps.

“All these activities put individuals who help students make decisions – parents, teachers and counselors – into our academic labs, where they learned what skilled technicians actually do,” Webb explained. “We’ve had very positive feedback from all participants in these events.”

The dean also reinforced the need to encourage students into technical careers, as those jobs are essential to American society. From the early days of the pandemic, he highlighted, Penn College graduates went to work: keeping the lights on, welding pipelines, and repairing the vehicles used to move goods and personal protective equipment.

Holley, a full-time faculty member since 2003, spoke about what is needed to properly educate students about hybrid and electrical vehicle technology. He pointed out that Penn College has expanded its hybrid/EV class from a one-credit course to a three-credit class and added a lab component.

“The one-credit class provides the student with an education that meets industry standards known as an Electrically Instructed Person,” he said. An EIP designation means the student or technician knows the vehicle is a hybrid/electric and has distinct relative knowledge, but is not certified to work on high-voltage components of the vehicle.

“With our new class, the education a student receives will raise them to a higher standard known as a High-Voltage Technician,” Holley added. An HVT, a lower standard than that of a High-Voltage Expert, can perform limited high-voltage repairs. “Although our newest class may touch on portions of this standard, HVT certification will occur with manufacturer training once the student graduates and enters the industry.”

He also discussed the protective equipment needed for any lab in which students work on EVs.

“That PPE includes 1,000-volt rated gloves (along with cotton inner and leather outer gloves), electric resistance footwear, a safety shield/helmet, and 50-kilovolt insulation mats,” he detailed. “Additionally, a collision student would likely need a high-voltage suit and hood if the EV battery had been damaged during a collision.”

In addition to ramped-up curriculum, Holley said that the auto industry might need to update vehicle lifts and reinforce shop floors to support the 1,500-pound battery during removal from the vehicle. In addition, battery chargers will need to be accessible to students/technicians. Depending upon the charger selected (Level 1, 2 or 3), the cost will rise as the specification increases, and the electrical capacity of the overall facility may need to be upgraded.

Lastly, he spoke about the continual training a technician (and professor) must undergo to earn and keep an HVT certification.

“Manufacturers need up to 150 hours of online and in-person training,” he said. “With the shortage of technicians in the field, it is difficult for dealership management to send a technician for training when they are needed to complete tasks at the dealership.”

Other members of the panel were Dwayne Myers, co-owner and CEO of Dynamic Automotive, an independent automotive repair business with five locations in Frederick County, Maryland, and Mamatha Chamarthi, global head of software business and product management at Stellantis, who previewed the technology-rich transformation of motor vehicles into autonomous “data centers on wheels.”

Kaptur ended by challenging panelists to devise a national workforce development plan among educators, industry leaders and the federal government that helps fill the need for technicians. She said her caucus would welcome such a plan, and would confidently present it to a broad congressional audience for funding consideration.

For more information about Penn College’s automotive and collision repair & restoration programs, visit the School of Engineering Technologies or call 570-327-4520.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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