The colleges that train the young autoworkers who’ll witness the demise of the internal combustion engine are ready, but almost everyone else has to catch up.

That’s according to the dean of transportation at Centennial College, who spent a decade in automotive training at Ford and Nissan starting when fuel injection was the emerging technology and says it has been a constant evolution in electronic control systems, emissions and engine and powertrain management systems ever since.

Alan McClelland reckons the window for the internal combustion engine extinction (save for perhaps some niche exceptions) to be anywhere from 2040 to 2060, and requires finding solutions to the current dearth of infrastructure (with charging stations just “the tip of the iceberg”), limited manufacturing capacity and a need for more scalable sustainable technologies.

“Those are the things that are slowing it down,” McClelland said in an interview.

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy aims for 100 per cent of Canada’s energy to be produced from renewable sources by 2050 and 100 per cent of new vehicles to be electric by 2040.

The schools are ready, McClelland told a provincial consultation in the last year that also involved representatives from energy, capital, manufacturers and fleet owners, but both supply and demand need to be stoked.

“We don't have the energy density in our grids right now to support a wholesale shift to electric,” he noted, while “the capacity for electric vehicles right around the world doesn't even come close to meeting the demand.”

But governments and companies respond to the demands of people, he said, and the need for a seismic shift in the speed of change will also require a rethinking of priorities on a much broader level.

“I think more of the world's population needs to see this as a higher priority than the other things that are competing for bandwidth in a world where things are changing fast and there is lots of uncertainty,” he said.

Fossil fuel-based energy systems may have the lowest upfront cost right now, he said, but the longer-term climate costs they exacerbate are getting worse and coming closer, he said. “In fact, I would argue they are upon us right now.

The colleges that train the young autoworkers who’ll witness the demise of the internal combustion engine are ready, but almost everyone else has to catch up.

“Everyone is suffering those. In fact, in some cases, it's people in countries that didn't even consume the energy in the first place,” he added.

Alan McClelland, Centennial College's dean of transportation. Photo supplied by Centennial College

Centennial is home to the largest transportation technology training centre in Canada, and McClelland said it already offers a variety of training programs relevant to the green vehicle transition that can grow as the industry develops.

A course on alternate fuels has been included in some of Centennial's diploma programs for quite some time, he said, while an updated version of a five-year-old hybrid and EV awareness module is included in apprenticeship training (level 3 still to come, a pilot is ongoing with those already working in the field).

They are also building out a hybrid and EV lab with light vehicles, mostly automotive and delivery vans, plus some medium-duty delivery trucks and even a hybrid electric bus from the TTC, McClelland said.

Another Centennial College lab enables students to test their welding skills. Photo supplied by Centennial College

Still, he knows first-hand the challenge of getting more young people interested in a technical or trade career. While in high school, his own son had been interested in training to work with heavy equipment or in aviation but ended up shying away despite the support of two blue-collar parents (she a college-educated registered nurse, he a heavy equipment technician).

“I've seen some pretty significant investments in trades training and programs promotion,” he said. “But we need to do more than promotion, we need to change how people view trades and I guess that's more of a societal issue.”

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Keep reading