First fruits are ripening thanks to Heartland Community College’s partnership with Rivian

The first cohort of individuals representing a partnership between Rivian and Heartland Community College graduated with new skills in electric vehicle servicing. Eight graduates may not seem like a lot, but Heartland provost Rick Pearce said more are sure to come.

Pearce said the eight had already come to Rivian with some skills in the automotive industry and that the college had “upgraded” them, as they say, so they could work on electric vehicles. The program is not specific to Rivian, however, and Pearce said other community members and people beyond the Twin City area can engage in EV repair.

“We’ve talked to other colleges that have automotive programs on pipelining. Some of their graduates who want to get into electric vehicles come to us to get that cutting-edge experience in our vehicle,” Pearce said.

Illinois electric vehicle buyers can get a $4,000 rebate, and the state has just appointed an electric vehicle coordinator. Pearce said these things are important commitments that matter to Heartland and Rivian.

“Historically they (electric vehicles) were expensive, but the pressure from the government to try and bring that price down, I think, is going to be golden because a lot of people; it is their hesitation. That and also the availability of charging stations. And we know that the federal government is expanding these charging stations across the country. I think those things are going to be barriers that are going to be broken down,” Pearce said.

There is, in fact, $146 million in federal funds for Illinois to create charging stations. All of this signals job security for people like Zachary Swords, one of the first eight graduates of the EV portion of Heartland’s technical trades program.

“Industry, automotive in particular, is moving towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly path, and I think electric vehicles and anything battery-powered will definitely be the future,” said Swords.

Swords lives in Morton. He made metal parts for Caterpillar and Kuboda. Now he’s a field service technician at Rivian, assembling and disassembling batteries and performing light repairs on electric vehicles.

“It’s nice to be able to see all the parts I used to make in the toys I build now,” Swords said, adding that he found what he learned at Heartland to be an experience. dazzling.

“The in-vehicle software is much more in-depth than I could have ever imagined. Just all the coding and programming that goes into the vehicles, all the different ride heights we can do, the different modes. We have sand mode. We have off-road modes. We have sports. Just vehicle technology all around,” Swords said.

The leaders of the Heartland see people like Swords as part of a bright future.

Curt Rendall is Executive Director of Program Development and Innovation at Heartland. He said the college continues to position itself to meet unmet labor needs in the region for electric vehicles and beyond. He said there is an estimated need for 1,000 people a year within a 60-mile radius of Bloomington Normal who have industrial production skills; things like tool and die machining, welding, electronics, troubleshooting, and robotics.

Rendall said future needs that haven’t quite arrived will involve additive manufacturing or 3D printing, noting that the population within that 60-mile radius will support many industries — if they can educate the workers.

“You know, as more and more companies move in (here), it’s going to be kind of a research triangle (in) the Midwest, or what we like to call the ‘electric heart.’ A lot of people will flock to this area for a reasonable cost of living and a great quality of life,” Rendall said.

He said central Illinois had an advantage over other parts of the country because Rivian’s arrival made leaders push harder.

“I would say we’re way ahead of the curve,” Rendall said. “We regularly get calls from across the country and from colleges and other institutions wanting to know how we’ve done what we’ve done and how to do what we’re doing. There are at least nine colleges that have banded together in the part of the National Electric Vehicle Consortium through Indian River College in Florida, so there are only a few big handfuls (doing this job) right now.

The first eight graduates of Heartland’s partnership with Rivian will return to the Normal factory or to service centers across the country. And as Heartland Community College welcomes more and more people who may end up in non-river auto repair shops, new technology Zachary Swords said people should know that electric vehicles can be a delight, not just for the people who work there. , but also for those who drive them.

“Just the speed at which an electric vehicle can go. I think we’ve all ridden in a fast muscle car at least once in our lives, and it’s just a whole different beast to be inside an electric vehicle,” Swords said.

And for those waiting to experience that thrill of driving, Congress is considering offering a $7,500 rebate to purchase an electric vehicle on top of state incentives.

Heartland Community College offers an Associate of Electric Vehicle Technology in Applied Science and certification programs for Electric Vehicle Maintenance and Light Repair, Electric Vehicle Energy Storage, Electric Vehicle Technology, and Service Advisor of electric vehicles.

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