Matt Watkins has spent the past two years preparing Tennessee College of Applied Technology students in Crossville for general automotive work.
It will now prepare students to work on the next generation of automotive technology as the school resumes the hybrid and electric vehicle program next month.
“A few students want to move on to it from automotive technology because they know it’s the future,” Watkins said.
He already hears from contacts in the auto repair industry looking for technicians trained to work with hybrid and electric vehicles.
“They’re asking technicians,” he said.
The new program will be launched on February 1 with gradual admissions. Students spend 12 months preparing for their new career, and receive an Automotive Service Excellence L3 certificate as a specialist in light-duty hybrid electric vehicles.
Nationwide, more and more people are choosing hybrid and electric vehicles. More than 240,000 drivers took to the roads in 2020 in electric vehicles, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reports 69,000 vacancies for auto technicians in 2020-30 with an average salary of $ 44,050. However, the agency does not distinguish between standard technicians and specialists in hybrid and electric vehicles.
Watkins said the special skills needed to work with hybrid and electric vehicles have increased earning potential.
TCAT Crossville previously offered hybrid electric car technology with a program in 2015.
“I think we may have been a little early when we suggested this,” TCAT-Crossville President Cliff Whitman said. “But we’re sure it’s the way to the future.”
Adoption of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles continues to grow. Tennessee estimates that there are about 14,000 vehicles on the road using the new technology, and it is hoped that by 2028 their number will grow to 200,000.
Tennessee is investing in this future, creating a faster charge.
Tennessee is also home to several electric car manufacturers, including Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen. Ford Motor Company in 2021 chose the site in West Tennessee as the future home for the production of electric F-150 trucks.
Watkins explained that hybrid and electric vehicles have key differences from conventional cars. First, large batteries and high-voltage wiring can be dangerous to operate.
Hybrid cars combine an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The battery drives the car at low speeds and switches to a petrol engine at higher ones.
Connected hybrids have a larger battery that can travel 10-50 miles. When the electric battery is discharged, the gasoline engine takes over. These vehicles can travel about 300 miles before they need recharging or refueling. Many electric vehicles have a range of 250 miles on a single charge, although some may go further.
“One of the first things we’ll learn is to disconnect the battery,” Watkins said.
Hybrid and electric vehicle technicians use special tools to work with components, including gloves designed to work under high voltage. Gloves are checked regularly.
For hybrid cars, once the battery is disconnected, it’s like a regular car. It still requires oil change and fluid filling. It still requires regular maintenance.
“The gears are a little different, but the steering is the same, the interior is the same,” Watkins said.
Full electric cars do not have an engine, he explained.
“It’s just a big electric motor,” Watkins said.
Watkins has worked in the automotive industry since the 1990s, changing tires and changing oil at a service station in Florida. He served in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army as a heavy equipment mechanic.
After retiring from military service in 2005, he owned a car shop and then worked in various dealerships serving various car companies, including Honda, Nissan, Infiniti and Maserati.
“I never thought I would do that,” Watkins said of the teaching.
He worked for a Hyuandai dealership in the Nashville area, but travel from Cumberland County was paid. His wife, a teacher, noticed an ad for a job as an automotive technology teacher at Stone Memorial High School. She applied for it, and soon Watkins was called by the director.
After three years at the local school system, Whitman called to talk about a job as a teacher of automotive technology.
He enjoys teaching and helping students develop their skills. One of the key components of TCAT training is hands-on work through cooperatives.
“A lot of younger students get nervous when they go to work,” Watkins said. “They are comfortable here. Here on your own.
But Watkins encourages students to go with a good attitude and adjust to the norms for different stores.
“Most come back and say,‘ It’s easy. I understand, ”he said.
In preparation for the new program, he encourages prospective students to think about where technology will lead in the automotive industry in the next 30 years.
“I tell them to take all three [automotive technology, diesel engine technology and hybrid electric vehicle technology] because it makes you more versatile in the store, ”Watkins said.
To learn more about the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technology program or other programs available at TCAT-Crossville, visit tcatcrossville.edu or call 931-484-7502.