Besides bringing more IBEW jobs, new U.S. guidance for a national electric vehicle charging network also encourages IBEW-developed worker training by name.
Photo Credit: Credit: IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection

New federal guidance for the creation of a national network of electric-powered vehicle charging stations explicitly recommended that agencies consider the IBEW-NECA Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program as they look to spend billions in funds allocated by President Biden’s infrastructure bill, which passed last November.

The move is an important first step in following through on Biden’s pledge that America’s expanding EV charging network will be built by IBEW members.

“We’re pleased that this guidance sets the foundation for the development of national EV charging standards but, more importantly, that it recognizes the need for quality training by specifically mentioning EVITP, which will help ensure the creation of good, union jobs,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure guidance strongly encourages jurisdictions to consider workers’ experience and training when applying for a share of the program’s funding. “This includes ensuring the workforce is trained in high-quality training programs like the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP),” the guidance reads.

At the Feb. 10 press conference outside Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C., several Biden administration officials announced that nearly $5 billion will be made available under NEVI to all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, over the next five years to help create the network along designated “Alternative Fuel Corridors.” Unions, specifically the IBEW, were mentioned several times during the conference.

“Once we get shovels in the ground to put these chargers up, it is going to mean jobs, jobs, jobs and more jobs,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who related her recent conversation about the coming work with an IBEW apprentice in Virginia named Danielle. “The jobs that are good-paying union jobs all over the country, in every pocket of this country, and the training that goes with [them] is a huge opportunity for communities.”

“These new EV chargers will use American parts, iron and steel,” said Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to Biden for infrastructure coordination. “They’ll be installed up and down highway corridors across the country by IBEW workers, and the benefits will ripple out thousands of miles away.”

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that there are already about 43,000 charging stations installed across the country. NEVI aims to add half a million more stations over the next five to eight years, locating them strategically near off-ramps and rest areas and no more than 50 miles from each other.

The specific mention of EVITP in the guidance, however, didn’t just happen in a vacuum, said Government Affairs Department Director Danielle Eckert.

“There are other, proprietary training programs out there that are against EVITP at all levels,” she said. Singling out EVITP, though, should help boost jurisdictions’ interest in the program, she said, acknowledging the work of the IBEW members who are helping to make sure officials understand EVITP’s quality.

“While interest and media attention in EVITP are currently ‘hot,’ electric vehicle charging system training has been available from us for 10 years now,” said Jason Lunardini, assistant director of the Electrical Training Alliance and a member of Pittsburgh Local 5.

The training alliance oversees and develops curricula for the IBEW’s joint apprenticeship training centers, and more than half of the roughly 270 inside wiremen training centers in the U.S. are actively enrolling students for electric vehicle charging system training programs with no signs of slowing down, he said.

The roughly 18 hours of EVITP instruction, for example, covers a wide variety of EV-related subjects, Lunardini said, such as vehicle history, design and structure, not to mention the National Electric Code and the applications of such considerations as load calculation methods and rules.

“JATCs have options for structuring classes to best support their needs and provide training in the most efficient manner for them,” Lunardini said. “The ETA has recently rolled out a training course that’s even designed to be completely online and self-paced if needed.”

NEVI’s guidance promoting EVITP certification certainly “levels the playing field, and it also gives us an advantage,” said Construction and Maintenance Director Mike Richard. “Having that certification in hand will put our signatory contractors in a better position to get this work,” he said.

Business managers should work hard on getting members registered for EVITP certification now rather than waiting for bigger projects to come along, he said, especially given the potential for hundreds of thousands more charger installation and maintenance projects in the future, most of them privately funded.

“One four-slot charger bay near a highway exit ramp or a rest area might not seem like a big project,” Richard said, “a few days with a few workers at most, a mix of IBEW and other trades. Our locals need to push our signatory contractors to bid that work and make it part of their portfolios so they win the next round of this work.”

“We need to continue to claim the work and that requires having a trained workforce,” Lunardini agreed. “It’s easier to be prepared when there may not seem to be a need than it is to get prepared when there is a need.”

The renewed interest in EV charging stations also puts pressure on the IBEW to recruit nonunion electricians into the brotherhood, he said, and to open opportunities to bring in more members as construction electricians and construction wiremen. “All of this is a huge step in the right direction,” he said.

The need for EV charging stations is growing rapidly. Some estimates say as many as 18 million EVs will be in use by the end of this decade alone, propelled forward by government regulations, but also by companies like GM and Ford, who are staking their futures on EVs with highly anticipated vehicles like the new Ford F-150 Lightning and GMC’s electric Hummer.

Biden promised throughout his 2020 presidential campaign that the IBEW would be a major player in expanding the EV charging network. “Electrical workers, IBEW members, installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways so we can own the electric car market,” the president said at an event in Pittsburgh.

The Federal Highway Administration, which administers NEVI’s funds, is set to announce grant approvals by Sept. 30. A second grant program designed to further increase EV charging access in locations throughout the country, including in rural and underserved communities, will be announced later this year, providing the potential for even more work for IBEW members and signatory contractors.