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How the southeast US is preparing a battery manufacturing talent pipeline

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The southeastern U.S. has become a hub for battery manufacturing in recent years. In a January forecast of the sector, the Department of Energy highlighted Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia as likely to see the most production capacity growth by the end of the decade.

The area, dubbed the “battery belt,” has risen in popularity for the sector given its proximity to ports and transportation corridors, utility connections, water availability, sites prime for development and ease of permitting, said Betony Jones, director of the department’s Office of Energy Jobs.

Alongside the rise in manufacturing investment is a need for talent to fill the factories being built. Schools, universities, training centers, state governments and manufacturers themselves are launching a wide range of initiatives to meet the growing demand for a trained workforce as battery manufacturers increase in the region.

The Energy Department’s Battery Workforce Initiative

The Department of Energy’s Battery Workforce Initiative is one such program looking to bring new talent into the battery manufacturing sector. The initiative is working with industry experts to identify the core skills needed for battery manufacturing jobs, and using this information to create national training guidelines for local workforce education and training programs, Jones said. 

The initiative aims to standardize workforce development in ways that ensure employers and workers alike find the skills and resources they need, as well as solve the skills gap many companies contend with in battery manufacturing.

The battery workforce initiative also works to solve the skills gap issue many companies face in battery manufacturing. 

“While many programs already exist to train workers for battery manufacturing, there is a significant mismatch between the skills attained through classroom or lab training and the skills required on the job,” Jones said. “Under this program, the training for battery manufacturing workers will involve both classroom training and on-the-job training with mentorship.”

Georgia Quick Start

In Georgia, the state boasts its Georgia Quick Start initiative, a free and customizable workforce training program administered through the Technical College System of Georgia.

“Quick Start designs training regimens that meet the specific needs of the employer, and trains the workers to be ready to start work as soon as the manufacturing facility is ready to begin production,” said Kristi Brigman, deputy commissioner of global commerce at the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

SK Battery America is one of the many battery manufacturers benefiting from the program. “Thanks to a strong partnership with the state of Georgia and the Quick Start program, SK Battery America, recently announced they had exceeded their hiring goal two years ahead of the initial projected timeline,” Brigman added.

“The Georgia Quick Start program has helped us attract and train workers with a speed and scale that would be difficult for any company to do on its own,” said Steven Jahng, director of external affairs at SK Battery America in Commerce, Georgia. “We exceeded our local hiring goal of 2,600 employees, and we’ve expanded to 3,000+ employees to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles.”

Freyr Battery is another company benefiting from the program. “We have begun working with Georgia Quick Start to develop the employee onboarding and technical training that will be needed once we hire the talented people from the pipeline,” said Lars Kvadsheim, vice president of HR & Sustainability in Freyr Operations and Michael J. Brose, vice president of U.S. Operations.

The role of educational institutes

One of the biggest reasons Freyr chose Georgia as the home of its U.S. gigafactory is the state’s access to universities like Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Aurburn University, as well as a robust technical college system, according to Kvadsheim and Brose. 

Freyr has also partnered with West Georgia Technical College to explore curriculum and certificate programs to help build a strong future candidate pipeline for the battery maker. 

Jahng of SK Battery America also credits the state’s local educational institutions for the company’s workforce development success.

“The Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) has the curriculum and programs in place to support our manufacturing,” Jahng said. “From production-level certificates to entry-level engineering, TCSG has a lot to offer companies setting up a manufacturing plant.”

Educational institutes in other southeast states have also launched new programs catering to battery manufacturing needs.

For example, this fall South Carolina’s Clemson University will begin offering the nation’s first bachelor of science degree in automotive engineering, through which students will take classes, work in the local industry and tackle real-world problems in the school’s lab facilities, said David Clayton, executive director at Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research.

In addition, Clemson will continue to offer its master’s and PhD programs in automotive engineering, where students have the option to perform a specialized course of study or research in electric powertrains and/or EV and battery manufacturing. For students in other departments of the university, a minor program in the electrification of transportation is also available, which offers classes on battery engineering.

Other local education institutions are also planning for the future. Trident Technical College, Greenville Technical College and Spartanburg Community college have formed the consortium Revolutionizing Electric Vehicle Education, focused on developing and investigating the use of VR and AR educational tools to support electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, Clayton said. The initiative received $2.83 million from the National Science Foundation to fund the project. 

“With the aid of several state and federal government programs, South Carolina continues to invest heavily in its 16 technical colleges to prepare the local workforce,” Clayton said. 

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