COMMENT: Community colleges must seize the opportunities created by the electric vehicle boom for their students – EdSource | CarTailz

Courtesy of Bakersfield College

Bakersfield College students take part in an Intro to EV class.

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I recently found out that the car my parents drove growing up in South India, the Hindustan Ambassador, is now being produced as an electric vehicle! This remarkable development caused me to reflect on the magnitude of the changes in our world.

With California’s recent landmark decision to phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, the electrification of transportation appears to be at a major inflection point. The growth of electric vehicles seems inevitable, even by just looking at the number of Teslas on the road, a California-made electric vehicle that was a huge success in proving the concept.

Some industry experts estimate that electric vehicle development is roughly on the growth trajectory that the internet was on in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While Tesla is currently the leader in electric vehicle sales, GM and other major automakers are expected to outpace their market share as consumers begin to buy more affordable electric vehicles. GM will begin production of an electric vehicle for around $30,000 over the next five years.

As Chancellor of the Kern Community College District, which serves approximately 40,000 students in the southern end of California’s Central Valley, I am acutely aware of how large-scale deployments of technology often span historically disinvested communities.

Our three community colleges in Bakersfield, Cerro Coso, and Porterville serve primarily minority, low-income, and first-generation college students. There are still areas of our education where broadband is unavailable, communities have chronically polluted air, a steady supply of clean water is not guaranteed, and a lack of basic transportation remains a major barrier to attending college.

How do we ensure that this transition in the transportation sector is equitable so that parts of the state like mine, where median incomes are often significantly lower than in coastal communities or large cities, are not left behind in this transition?

With $1.5 billion in the 2021-22 state budget for clean transportation and the billions in funding included in the recently passed Anti-Inflation Act, public money should be strategically targeted to underinvested communities to create economic benefits and decent jobs As a result of this shift, everyone is reaching out, especially those from low-income and rural communities.

Professions require education. Training for today’s professions must, to the greatest possible extent, include the skills that are shaped by current and future requirements.

To ensure we have the refueling infrastructure and technicians to charge and service EVs, our colleges have already begun realigning our academic programs.

We have worked with local car dealerships to develop a curriculum to train automotive technicians to service EVs, which require different skills and knowledge than ICE cars.

To support the use of charging stations, we have partnered with electrical trades to offer pre-training programs for students that create a path into well-paying jobs that are likely to be in high demand and provide a sustainable career. The state of California estimates that about 1.2 million charging stations will be needed for the nearly 8 million light electric vehicles expected by 2030, which will create a need for about 6,000 electrical technicians over the next 15 years.

Additionally, the Kern Community College District recently received $50 million from the State of California to establish the California Renewable Energy Lab (CREL), which will house a center of excellence in clean transportation. This work not only ensures that we are not left behind in the upcoming transition, but also gives us the opportunity to prepare our workforce to build the necessary infrastructure and fill new positions.

I was encouraged when the California Energy Commission recently selected our Kern Community College District office in Bakersfield to host one of their outreach meetings on the emerging energy workforce. Commissioner Patty Monahan, who is responsible for transforming the transport sector, spoke out clearly on concerns about equality in the transport sector, noting that low-income communities are already lagging far behind in access to electric vehicle charging stations and public policies are geared to address them to ensure this problem is addressed. The Energy Commission understands the need to be mindful and conscious in ensuring that resources and opportunities reach everyone.

The scale of changes involved in the transition to EV solutions can be daunting. It is up to government educational institutions to embrace this shift in EV travel to work with government and industry partners and capitalize on the upcoming shift wherever possible. If we don’t, we risk missing out on quality jobs, cleaner air and a more sustainable future.


Sonya Christian is Chancellor of the Kern Community College District.

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