As originally published by Electric Autonomy Canada on April 6, 2023. Article sponsored by Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

Battery production stock image
Situated halfway between Ontario’s automotive manufacturing centre in Windsor and Quebec’s battery materials refining
industrial park in Becancour, Kingston region is naturally positioned to become the battery materials and technologies
corridor with three post secondary institutions and a deep history of chemical processing expertise.
Photo: Kingston Economic Development

As one of Ontario’s post-secondary-rich areas, there is a growing movement in the Kingston region to fill the skills gap in the transition to electric transportation

Situated halfway between Ontario’s automotive manufacturing centre in Windsor and Quebec’s battery materials refining industrial park in Becancour, Kingston region is naturally positioned to become the EV battery materials and technologies corridor with three post secondary institutions and a deep history of chemical processing expertise.

Accordingly, it is the chosen site of Belgium-headquartered, Umicore’s manufacturing facility, that will be operational in 2025, for cathode active battery materials (CAM) and their precursor materials (pCAM). Both are critical components of Canada’s EV battery supply chain.  

“With its deep roots in higher education and skilled trades, and the proximity to industrial manufacturing in Canada and the United States, the Kingston region is uniquely positioned to work with key stakeholders to create the workforce of the future,” says Abdul Razak Jendi, investment manager for sustainable manufacturing at Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

The impending and, to some extent, current skills gap in Canada’s EV industry is significant. Deficits in engineering, skilled trades, and advanced manufacturing are just some of the challenges facing Canada’s current workforce.

“We know this is a problem. We have been studying and consulting on this issue for over a year,” says Razak Jendi.

“Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College are working together and leveraging their programming to create new educational streams and enhance existing programs to be relevant for the workforce that will be needed in Canada imminently.”

Rapid upskilling needed

St. Lawrence College is on the frontlines of providing skilled labour training in Ontario. The Innovation and Business Engagement department specializes in developing and delivering short duration training for job seekers and rapid upskilling of incumbent workers. It has over 100 programs and over 26,000 full and part-time students.

“Our programs are designed to transition people to fill current and future labour gaps. In Eastern Ontario, we have several new, EV-related industries that have already committed to be here,” says Dr. John Conrad, director of innovation and business engagement at St. Lawrence College.

“We need to be able to meet their workforce demands when they open their doors.”

To do this the college is engaging in ongoing discussions with businesses in the Kingston region and beyond. It is also working with the Ontario government to chart the path forward.

Those partnerships have yielded helpful new programming already and there is more to come, says Dr. Conrad.

“We’ve provided specific training on electric vehicle maintenance for automotive service technicians. We developed the training to support current technicians who work for independent service deliveries. As well there is specific training for job seekers who wanted introductory auto maintenance training,” says Dr. Conrad.

“We are really going after the resources needed to make Kingston the place where workforce development happens for the new and growing EV industry.”

Supporting engineers

recent study conducted by Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors and Accelerate, Canada’s EV battery alliance, finds Canada needs more engineers trained to support EV manufacturing and EV infrastructure.

Queen’s University in Kingston ranks among Canada’s top universities for engineering programs and research excellence. For two years, Queen’s received recognition in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings as one of the Top 10 universities in the world advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The university is enhancing its curriculum and course offerings to ensure that graduating engineers are ready for the workplace and able to fill the skills gaps. In addition to new degree programs such as the Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering program, the university offers several professional programs designed to meet the evolving needs of engineers working in industry.

Queen’s University also develops programs and fosters partnerships with industry in order to enhance technology development.

“We have many departments and researchers within the university that are collaborating with industry to meet the needs of a low carbon future and the EV industry specifically,” says Dr. Jim Banting, Assistant Vice-Principal of Partnerships and Innovation at Queen’s University.

“Within the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, we have a world-renowned power electronics group with significant expertise that can contribute to the EV industry. We also have very strong autonomous vehicles and robotics programs, battery technology labs, as well as materials, advanced materials, and systems to support the development and control of battery technologies.”

Training engineers in battery technologies is a gap in the EV ecosystem and supply chain that Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College, and Kingston Economic Development Corporation are working to address.

The battery manufacturing certification program

One emerging program is a great example of collaborative efforts.

St. Lawrence College, Queen’s University and the Kingston Economic Development Corporation are partnering with local industry and the Ontario government to create a battery manufacturing certification program.

“We are taking an industry-driven approach by consulting with the industry partners that announced major investments in Canada. We are receiving feedback and input from them while developing the program,” says Razak Jendi.

It will take the combined efforts of the institutions and industry to design a curriculum that will upskill the current workforce and prepare graduates for the jobs of the future.

It’s an approach that is allowing industry to help sculpt the workforce that they will need.

“Part of this is doing a specific needs analysis for the industry,” says Dr. Conrad.

“It is a rare opportunity to work with an emerging industry at this stage of its ‘newness’. We are learning how to support a brand-new industry for the region and for the province. Typically, we’ve been innovating over time. This is almost like flipping a light switch. We’re going from nothing to full operation in two or three years.”

In the Kingston region (and the rest of Ontario) the EV and sustainability sector will be one of the largest employers.

“We’re also developing talent through supporting local companies, usually on the upstream and downstream of the supply chain. Many companies are piloting and scaling their operations in Kingston. Li-Cycle is recycling batteries; Cyclic Materials is recycling magnets; and Ucore is separating rare earth elements,” says Razak Jendi.

“Kingston is on a mission to create an integrated ecosystem that will produce the materials and talent of the future.”