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Teams of EVSE trainees complete a capstone project prior to graduation. Graduate Marcus Long presented his team's look at the state of charging in Detroit. (SAE/Chris Clonts)

Program to train EV charger techs graduates first class in Detroit

Public-private partnership drove development of training and certification standards for what will eventually be tens of thousands of jobs nationwide.

Officials from SAE International, ChargerHelp, Detroit at Work and more partners gathered recently to celebrate the first graduating class of a new training and certification program for electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) technicians and discuss the importance of these jobs amidst the ongoing push for electrification.

The program is the first of its kind and teaches safety above all else while focusing on seven domains of theoretical and practical knowledge. The SAE Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Certification will be granted to participants who complete a certified course and pass a standardized test administered by SAE ITC Probitas. The Detroit participants have completed the coursework and will sit for the certification exam. The exam rolls out nationwide in April.

The event was held at Michigan Central, the 30-acre innovation zone that reclaimed the former Detroit Book Depository and turned it into a sleek, tech-friendly startup incubator. Clarinda Barnett-Harrison, Michigan Central’s director of skills, lauded all members of the partnership for working to ensure opportunity for all. “As technologies continue to evolve, usually in black and brown cities, the people in those cities are often not part of that experience,” she said. “And they're not able to take advantage of economic opportunities that come with the advancement of that technology.”

Sarah Hipel, standards and reliability program manager for the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation as well as former co-chair of the SAE Public Key Infrastructure Cooperative Research Project, said she was proud of the equity goals of the program. “Workforce development and equity are important parts of our mission at the Joint Office,” she said, “and this program taps into the expertise of minority-owned companies… to provide right-size training to upskill talent and ensure everyone benefits from the electrified transition.”

To qualify for the four- to six-week program (depending on class frequency – coursework is 120 hours), aspiring technicians must live in Detroit, have a high school diploma or GED and be able to read at a ninth-grade level. The course is offered at no cost to the participants. Fifteen people graduated from the initial class, and the program hopes to train 100 more before the end of the year.

Michael Paras, SAE manager of business development, partnerships and sales, outlined what drove the organization to take part in creating the certification standards. “The industry wants a mechanism for certifying that technicians possess the requisite skills and knowledge to be working on EVSE [electric vehicle supply equipment],” he said.

Frank Menchaca, president of SAE Sustainable Mobility Solutions, emphasized the need for thousands of technicians should the United States come anywhere close to hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “We would need something like 320 million electric vehicles,” he said. Menchaca also said the organization envisioned an upwardly mobile series of jobs beginning with the EVSE techs. “We think about this certification training, we hope this is step number one, and the scaffolding career where people can come in from nontraditional backgrounds, and learn this, then take it to the next step, whether it's software or what have you, we see a pathway in new energy vehicles. Because it is not just in the charging stations. Instead, it’s the whole infrastructure, they filter out to support that. And we're going to need people to work in these jobs.”

Marcus Long, a graduate of the first class, presented his team’s capstone project, which was a survey of the charging landscape in the city of Detroit. The team found chargers in a variety of conditions, from pristine and working to non-functioning and even potentially dangerous. “Just the other day I went to three different locations and none of them worked,” he said. That is not terribly surprising, as recent studies have said that at any given time, up to 30% of public chargers in America aren’t functioning.

Long said he was driven to go into the business for two reasons: The employment opportunity but also the chance to be working in an industry that is helping fight pollution – which disproportionately affects minority communities. “I want to be part of making the world better,” he said.

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