As she was starting high school, Jasmine Chu hardly knew how an engine worked.
Flash-forward three years, and she was getting her hands dirty in SAIT’s Automotive Service Technology diploma program. High school mechanics classes piqued her interest in the trades and what went on under the hood of a car, but it was SAIT where she first felt the excitement of working in a “real” shop.
“There’s a lot of technology available to learn from,” Chu says, adding that the program’s resources (such as AR and VR software used to diagnose automotive issues) and instructors’ expertise prepared her for a career in the fast-changing automotive industry. After graduating from SAIT’s automotive service technology program earlier this year, she now works as an apprentice technician at a dealership in the city and uses her new skills daily.
Lynda Holden, interim dean of SAIT’s School of Transportation, says that training new tradespeople on updated technologies is critical for the province’s future workforce. As a result, the school’s 20-plus diploma, certificate and journeyperson programs are rising to meet the newest demands of the industry. Chu’s automotive service technology program, for example, features a course solely dedicated to hybrid vehicles. The school has also introduced a brand-new diploma program in Transport and Heavy Equipment Technology, which provides students with the skills to work on modern and emerging models of transport and construction vehicles.
The greatest change influencing the transportation industry, Holden says, is the growing push towards electrification. Governments at all levels have expressed the need for zero-emission public transport and personal vehicles, in addition to electric transportation in the logistics sector. The Government of Canada offers up to a $5,000 point-of-sale discount for Canadians to purchase an electric vehicle, and the City of Calgary estimates that 50 per cent of cars on local roads will be electric by 2030.
“All of these factors inform what skills our graduates will need for the future,” Holden says.
And SAIT is only growing their capacity to develop future tradespeople’s skillsets in electric vehicles. A recent $850,000 gift from RBC will enable the school to enhance their electric vehicle programming, especially through the Automotive Service Technology program, with up-to-date technology and work-integrated learning opportunities.
According to industry experts, SAIT’s technology-focused automotive programs are filling a crucial knowledge gap within and beyond the province. Greg Gillette, co-owner of electric vehicle dealership GoElectric and OK Tire 17th Avenue SW, says that many of the skills someone gains from working on gasoline vehicles can be transferred to electric ones.
Electric cars, after all, still have similar brakes, steering and lights. However, they also introduce a whole new domain for mechanics and technicians to understand: a battery management system, a charging system and a whole high-voltage mechanism separate from what most technicians were originally trained to service.
“It’s almost a separate skillset,” Gillette says.
When GoElectric opened in 2018, so few training programs existed in Canada that the company had to send a journeyperson south of the border to receive certification to capably service electric vehicles. Having properly trained staff has been key to the shop’s ability to tap into car owners’ growing interest in zero-emission vehicles. Now, the shop is not only equipped to manage batteries and high-voltage systems, but fully convert gas vehicles into electric vehicles.
Gillette says that consumer demand for electric vehicles has already grown since GoElectric first opened. This demand will only heighten, he says, as new models and wider charging coverage expand across the province — so too will the need for people trained to safely work with the newest systems.
“We’re looking forward to more technicians coming out,” Gillette says. “The need will only get bigger and bigger.”
Chu recognizes the same in her own work. She specifically finds herself drawing upon the skills she learned related to hybrid vehicles — every second or third vehicle she works on is a hybrid one. And, thankfully, this is good news for Chu.
“I absolutely loved learning about electric systems and how they work together in a hybrid system,” she says.
Realizing her love for hybrid and electric models at SAIT surprised her. Chu, like many car enthusiasts, is enthralled by the mechanical intricacies and classic roar of a gasoline engine. But in hybrids and electrics, she found a new challenge that only adds to the fascination that drew her to the trade in the first place.
The evolving nature of today’s trades, Chu says, are what make them fulfilling. As a result, her greatest tip to anyone entering the trades — or training in a new one — is to keep an open mind.
“You never know what you’re going to end up falling in love with.”
For more information on the SAIT School of Transportation, click here.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology).