Growing in double digits, the market for electric vehicles is establishing itself as the new frontier in the future of mobility. Though in absolute numbers electric vehicles account for just 2-3% of all vehicles on our roads, the industry is placing all its bets on battery-powered transport. This will inevitably have an impact on the configuration of workforces in the production and supply chain, creating a demand for new roles and skills sets. At stake is environmental sustainability and the future success of carmakers.
“Legislation is having a significant impact on the adoption of electric vehicles by setting an emissions target of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2020-2021 and further targets for 2025 and 2030, the deadline for achieving a 37% reduction in Co2 emissions. This has forced vehicle manufacturers and components suppliers to invest heavily in developing a product that fulfils both legislative and consumer requirements,” explains Gianmarco Giorda, Director General of Italy’s association of automotive manufacturers, ANFIA.
An association bringing together the players in Italy’s automotive industry, ANFIA is well-placed to promote the development of new skills sets and has already established close ties between the industry and universities. One example of this relationship is the Formula SAE Italy. “This is a competition,” Giordano explains, “where around 100 teams from universities all around the world take part in a four-day challenge to get hybrid, electric or fuel efficient vehicles on the track at the Riccardo Paletti circuit in the province of Parma. The contest is judged by 150 of our members, giving them the opportunity to make contact with a pool of over 2,500 engineering students.”
Manufacturers are generally looking for new skills sets: “There will surely be demand for more software skills, for materials engineers, and electronic engineers instead of mechanical engineers, but also for people with expertise in infrastructures like smart grids, recharging stations and so on,” Giorda continues. “This demand will require governments and industry to work together on reskilling programmes to equip workers in the automotive sector with the skills that will enable manufacturers to transform. Putting a battery in a car is quite a different process to installing a combustion engine.”
There will surely be demand for more software skills, for materials engineers, and electronic engineers instead of mechanical engineers, but also for people with expertise in infrastructures like smart grids, recharging stations and so on
Companies in the automotive sector have already set to preparing for this trend. Take CGA Technologies, a company in the Friuli region which has been operating for 40 years and is specialised in cooling battery packs: “We built up our expertise in refrigeration producing roll-bonds for cooling systems. This technology has seen a variety of applications over the years, including electric cars,” Filippo Desabbata tells us. This meant that workers had to be trained in specialist skills: “We set up an in-house academy where we currently train our own employees but plan to open up to provide consulting services to our clients in the near future. Thanks to the academy, we have been able to transform our know-how into an added value: patenting, technical development, research and all those intangible aspects of innovation mean we now recruit people to design integrated solutions to complex problems in electric power systems,” Desabbata explains.
Other companies in the sector have similar needs, like Techno Design based in Battipaglia, in the province of Salerno: “We are looking for specialists in mechatronics and industrial design to help us on our projects for small electric vehicles,” explains company manager Donato Longo. Founded 22 years ago, Techno Design is specialised in the design of specific components: body panels, chassis, suspensions, sealing systems, brakes and steering. But they are also working on the design of lightweight (carbon fibre) electric vehicles: “Last year we were involved in a project to design an electric minibus where we developed the whole structure in carbon fibre. Now our focus is on ‘Element’, a small lightweight vehicle with a power output of around 11.5 kW. Our next projects include a patent to reduce the weight of an electric train for tourist excursions,” Longo tells us.
Partnering with a university is key to turning all these ideas into reality. This is the case at Fatigroup, a company in the Veneto region operating for over 60 years. Thanks to its partnership with the University of Padova, over the past five years the company has specialised in electrical engineering: “Many of our employees trained at the department of industrial and mechanical engineering, which still provides us with some of its brightest talents,” the company’s head of Legal, Andrea Cecchetto points out.