Now is the time to invest in post Brexit Britain’s EV industry

By Richie Frost, Founder and CEO of Sprint Power

The EV race is on. From the 1st January 2024, UK carmakers will need to source 50% of their batteries and other EV components, either domestically, or from within the EU to avoid hefty tariffs being slapped on their exports. By establishing an entire EV supply chain domestically, we will not only create a viable and independent EV industry right here in the UK, but also attract investment and much needed talents. Global demand for low carbon technologies is only going one way, after all.

While European carmakers have been investing billions of euros in battery manufacturing plants, the UK is playing catch up in the race to develop a battery supply chain for electric vehicles. While the UK government focused a lot on encouraging research and building a battery testing hub, we are quite a bit behind our peers in continental Europe and Asia. With the UK planning to ban the sale of new ICE vehicles in just nine years’ time, there still remains a huge gap in our ability to meet our own domestic demand for EV batteries and associated components. Only government and industry investment will ensure we don’t get left behind in these early critical stages.

It’s no surprise that the businesses that manufacture products, systems and components associated with ICE vehicles have been affected the most with this change of direction, with many forcing to revolutionise their technologies and products, or downsize their operations. This is in stark contrast to the companies specialising in electrification and low carbon tech developments, many of which face challenges in recruiting skilled engineers quick enough. Sprint Power arrived at the right time to take advantage of this shift towards electrification. And as this trend continues apace, UK OEMs will need the expertise of companies such as Sprint Power like never before.

Growth and investment

The demand for power electronics and battery expertise within UK automotive has seen Sprint Power doubling its growth in a year. Our plan is to invest further to expand our resources and capabilities in 2021 to meet this country’s growing demand for advanced EV propulsion systems and related electrification solutions, helping to realise sustainable transportation and mitigate climate change.

But building the infrastructure to support the design and manufacture of world-class components is just part of the battle. We also need a highly-skilled workforce with the expertise to enable this to happen. According to the government backed Faraday Institution, a failure to build an effective UK EV supply chain could cost us more than 100,000 jobs by 2040.

It is true the UK faces a skills shortage. We urgently need a concerted, ongoing workforce development strategy to ensure the country has plenty of talents in various EV technologies and engineering practices to fulfil the government’s plan to stop the sale of pure-petrol and diesel models by 2030. When I was a student, the main focus for universities was the training of mechanical engineers for ICE vehicles. Today, this focal point has shifted to the training of electrical, power electronics and cell engineers, with these graduates being quickly snapped up by OEMs and start-ups alike.

It is my aspiration to explore and invest more time in building relationships with vocational colleges and universities to offer students and graduates real-world engineering experience in EV applications. I believe early exposure to first class training in the latest powertrain and battery technologies will also ensure our next generation are fully aware of the opportunities within this growing sector and help develop a future workforce of highly specialised skillsets.

Attracting the best talent

While improving the skillset of our own workforce, it remains important that we can continue to attract and retain talents not only from Europe, but further afield too. We believe flexible working and diversity are key parts of our organisational culture and contribute to effectively operating as a fast-growing business, attracting the best talents and meeting the needs of our customers.

The possible disruption caused by the end of freedom of movement due to Brexit remains a concern, but I am hopeful that the new immigration system being introduced by the UK government will enable us to continue to recruit the staff with the skillsets we need. As a start-up, we have the flexibility and agility to react quickly to such challenges as we have set up our business with the infrastructures that allow remote working.

Even during the pandemic, we’ve continued to attract highly sought-after engineers because of the diverse range of projects that we work on. While power electronics engineers working for an OEM may focus on one project that may span the best part of a year, our engineers are drawn to us as we give them the opportunity to focus on everything from passenger and autonomous vehicle projects to marine and defence programs – it’s that varied.

Ever since forming Sprint Power in late 2018, I have seen for myself how the UK boasts an impressive talent pool with a passion for innovation. Now is the time to invest in ourselves so we can power forward to the next level. Let’s not waste this opportunity.