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I recently learned the car my parents drove when I was growing up in southern India, the Hindustan Ambassador, is now being produced as an electric vehicle! That remarkable development prompted me to reflect on the scale of change happening in our world.
With California’s recent landmark decision to phase out the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, the electrification of transportation seems to be at a major inflection point. Electric vehicle growth seems inevitable, even just seeing the number of Teslas on the road, a made-in-California EV that has been a huge success in proving the concept.
Some industry pundits estimate the trajectory of electric vehicles is about on the growth curve where the Internet was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While Tesla is currently the market leader in EV sales, GM and other major carmakers are expected to outpace its market share as consumers start to buy more affordable electric vehicles. GM is to begin producing an electric vehicle for around $30,000 in the next five years.
As chancellor of the Kern Community College District, which serves about 40,000 students at the south end of California’s Central Valley, I’m keenly aware of how large-scale technological deployment often passes over historically disinvested communities.
Our three community colleges in Bakersfield, Cerro Coso and Porterville serve predominantly minority, low-income and first-generation college students. There are still pockets of our educational service area where broadband is inaccessible, 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 this shift in the transportation sector happens equitably so that parts of the state like mine, where median incomes are often considerably lower than in coastal communities or major cities, don’t get 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 Inflation Reduction Act, public dollars should be strategically targeted ahead of the curve to underinvested communities, so the economic benefits and good jobs created as a result of this shift reach everyone, particularly those from low-income and rural communities.
Jobs demand education. To the greatest extent possible, training for today’s jobs must include the skills that are shaped by both current and future demands.
To ensure that we have the refueling infrastructure and the technicians to charge and service EVs, our colleges have already started reorienting our academic programs.
We have developed a curriculum in conjunction with local car dealerships to train automotive technicians in electric vehicle maintenance, which requires a different set of skills and knowledge than cars with internal combustion engines.
To support the deployment of charging stations, we’ve partnered with electrical trades to offer pre-apprenticeship programs for students, which creates a pathway into well-paying jobs that are expected to be in high demand and that will provide a sustainable career. The state of California estimates about 1.2 million charging stations will be needed for the nearly 8 million light-duty electric vehicles anticipated by 2030, which will create demand for about 6,000 electrical technicians over the next 15 years.
In addition, Kern Community College District recently received $50 million from the state to create the California Renewable Energy Lab, which will be home to a center of excellence for clean transportation. Not only does this work guarantee we are not left behind in the coming transition, but it also gives us the opportunity to ready our workforce to build out the needed infrastructure and fill new jobs.
I was encouraged recently when the California Energy Commission chose our Kern Community College District office in Bakersfield to hold one of its outreach meetings on the emerging energy workforce. Commissioner Patty Monahan, who is leading the transportation transition, was clear about the equity concerns in the transportation sector, noting that low-income communities already lag far behind in access to electric vehicle charging stations, and state policy must be oriented to ensure this issue is addressed. The Energy Commission understands the need to be mindful and intentional about ensuring that resources and opportunities reach everyone.
The scope of change involved in transitioning to EV solutions can be daunting. It is up to the state’s educational institutions to embrace this shift in EV transportation to work with government and industry partners, and to capitalize on the coming change 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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