Need to reskill automotive engineers for electric mobility

The global automotive industry is being disrupted by the rapid emergence of electric mobility. Automated driving powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning is fast becoming a reality. Connected cars are here and now being enabled by technology building blocks like the standardisation of protocols, enhanced bandwidth and cybersecurity.

Indian automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have responded to the global trend by building new vehicles that use innovative electric vehicle (EV) architecture and platforms. Catalysed by the Union government’s ambitious initiatives to build a strong electric mobility ecosystem by 2030, several Indian automotive brands have made big investments and announced the launch of new EV models. 

The development of several new EV products, localisation of EV components (batteries, motors, sensors, electronic control units etc) and building of EV charging infrastructure across India are expected to create many new jobs. According to an IVCA-EY-Induslaw analysis, the auto sector is expected to create more than 10 million direct and 50 million indirect employment opportunities by 2030. These new jobs could span across: (a) EV design, EV manufacturing, research and development at automotive OEMs (b) EV components design and manufacturing (cells and battery packs, design and fabrication of semiconductor electronics chips) at components suppliers (c) software development – e.g battery management system (BMS), automotive driver assist systems (ADAS) etc and (d) connected vehicles – V2V communication, data analytics, cybersecurity etc. These new jobs would require people trained in new skills.

Read | India’s EV charging needs are nuanced

When the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International FISITA interviewed automotive experts across industry and academia to research what skills a mobility engineer would need to possess in 2030, they identified three key themes: (1) In addition to mechanical engineers, the automotive companies will have a significantly greater need of engineers from IT; (2) Besides deep domain specialists, the industry will require generalists with capability across different engineering disciplines that link the various engineering fields. Engineering collaboration across multiple disciplines will become critical success factors for engineering in the future; and (3) The skillset of engineers will expand from predominantly technical requirements to more process-related skills, such as agile project management, communication skills and operating in virtual environments.

Automotive experts in current vehicle technology and engineering students aspiring to join the industry need to urgently reskill themselves in these emerging technologies. These new EV skills cross the traditional boundaries of engineering domains like mechanical, electrical, electronics and computer science. An ideal EV engineer is a mechanical, electrical and electronics engineer – all rolled into one – and will also have computer programming skills. They will have technical depth in new areas like batteries, motors, communication, navigation and security. They will also have the technical breadth across product design, manufacturing, sourcing and supply chain management and marketing along with technology integration, product quality, project management, innovation and decision-making skills.

Way forward

The challenges before us are (a) how do we build all these skills in a short time? (b) How do we create millions of such industry-ready students by 2030? (c) How do we bring industry, academia and government together to converge and collaboratively build these new skill sets?

Industry experts weigh in their thoughts.

“To get started, we need to prepare an occupational map of different kinds of functions and new job roles in the EV segment. We have divided the job roles into categories like skills that will get outdated, jobs that need reskilling and absolutely new job roles”, said Arindam Lahiri, Chief Executive Officer, Automotive Skill Development Council (ASDC).

Others from academia said that the automotive industry has been enquiring to reskill their employees and prepare them for EV migration, said IIT Madras Director Professor V Kamakoti. The institute launched an industry-oriented online certificate program on e-Mobility for working professionals in October 2022. IIT Hyderabad, under the directorship of Professor B S Murty, has launched a Masters in Technology programme on Smart Mobility (in 2020) for working professionals. IISc Bangalore, too, recently introduced a PG-level advanced certification in Mobility Engineering (December 2022). Many IITs offer online courses on EV technologies through the SWAYAM and NPTEL MOOCs platform – one course that stands out as a crisp and effective introduction to EV technology is “Fundamentals of Electric Vehicles – Technology & Economics” taught by Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala and team from IIT Madras.

Going forward, the most important skill that an automotive engineer should have is “learnability” – the ability to learn and apply new technologies. The new technologies that are entering the automotive industry are growing exponentially and fast converging to create new possibilities. Only curious and self-motivated fast learners will be able to keep pace with the technology.

The reskilling of automotive engineers at scale is possible only when the industry, academia and government collaborate. The industry is known to use technology roadmaps to drive innovation and growth – the most famous being the semiconductor industry technology roadmap that powered the doubling of computing every 18 months for many decades (Moore’s law). Now, the Indian automotive industry needs to create a roadmap for reskilling at scale – with short-term (2030) and long-term (2050) goals for building technical capability in EV technology. If we deploy the skilling roadmap with focus and speed, then India can realise its potential to become a global hub for electric mobility.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s personal views.

(The author is the Vice president at Mahindra & Mahindra and is the Dean of the Mahindra Technical Academy)

(This is the fourth story in the “Reimagining Mobility” series focused on building a holistic ecosystem around the future of mobility)

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