US charging industry faces workforce challenges

Increasingly software-centric chargers and lack of standardisation leave slim pickings for CPOs

US charging industry faces workforce challenges
Chargers are getting ever more technically complicated

The US charging industry faces a shortfall of technicians due to the nascence of the technology and the complexity of the required skillset, charging industry leaders say.

In addition to electrical engineering expertise, increasing prominence of a wide range of software used in chargers leaves the industry short of personnel competent in both computing and electrical engineering skills.

On top of this, the broad and competitive charging market means that a vast range of proprietary technology is being installed and technicians are often called on to maintain hardware built by companies other than their own OEM or charge point operator (CPO), often leading to a knowledge gap.

And experts say the increasingly hybrid nature of the job contributes to the poor reliability record of US charging.

“I think we have gone from this model of someone who has a job and they do this one thing with the electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) [to] all of a sudden, you have some electrical knowledge that is necessary, a bunch of IT knowledge that is necessary, get some basic software knowledge, or ultimately some programming knowledge that might be necessary,” says David DeVoe, staff engineer trainer at the charging division of US EV maker Rivian.

“I would say that maybe 3-to-5pc of the electricians I have ever worked with would be able to open a Linux terminal with a little bit of training and do some basic command-line stuff,” DeVoe says. “You have very mechanically minded people, and you have very software minded people, and it is really hard to find somebody who can transition between those within five minutes of each other,” he explains.


And an uptick in technicians with expertise in one software system is only half the work. Technicians currently need knowledge of the wide range of different software made by different CPOs and OEMs across different charging networks.

“When you start actually putting in multiple different softwares that have to properly work with one another, you rely now on this technician to really be the eyes and the ears of a software engineer. And so we spent a lot of time on better understanding what type of person that is. Do we have an existing workforce that we can transition to?” says Kameale Terry, founder and CEO of EVSE company Chargerhelp.

But strides are being made towards standardisation, as standards body SAE has recently published the body of knowledge for the newly defined EVSE technician profession. And this will help technicians’ abilities to maintain chargers built by competing OEMs and CPOs, DeVoe explains.

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The body of knowledge lays out the base expertise needed for technicians to work on their own company’s hardware and software, but the challenge is far broader than this, DeVoe argues.

“If you work for Tesla, you need to know ‘these’ things. But what of ‘these’ things does somebody who does not work for Tesla need to know as well? So we started with the basics like the safety stuff. There is this basic body of knowledge now that says, ‘these are the things you probably need to know and understand in order to be a baseline EVSE technician,’” he says. “And, from there, you build on to the manufacturer's specifications.”

Upkeep challenge

Shortages in the technical charging workforce also leads to sub-optimal maintenance practises from companies, as bottlenecks in maintenance processes often lead to uneconomical cases for proactive charger repair. And just as in the US BEV market, competitors across the EVSE services industry are left looking to emulate one leader in the space.

“It pains me to say this, but the Tesla supercharger network has done a tremendous job of making it significantly easier for Tesla owners to charge their car. They have done that a number of ways — but mostly by making chargers available and improving their reliability with proactive maintenance, not just curative maintenance,” DeVoe says.

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