Windsor’s post-secondary institutions preparing for industry needs for new battery plant

Dave Waddell/Windsor Star

Representatives from St. Clair College, the University of Windsor and Invest WindsorEssex will meet virtually next week with the head of LG Energy Solution human resources to discuss the types of programs and skill sets the giant South Korean firm needs to staff its joint venture battery plant in Windsor with Stellantis.

Officials from both post-secondary institutions said they expect the $5-billion plant will have a transformative impact on their programming, infrastructure and research and development opportunities. “The university and college need to understand what skills the company is looking for to build the programming needed to support them,” said Invest WindsorEssex’s director of investment attraction Joe Goncalves. “Both institutions have been proactive in preparing programming to meet the emerging technology that not only LG, but the entire automotive and manufacturing sectors, need.”

Goncalves said there are more than 1,600 engineering students at the university and another 600 from St. Clair College that graduate each year that the companies hopes to draw on. The firms will also be looking for graduates with expertise in areas such as the sciences, IT, business, logistics, law and international and government relations. 

The University of Windsor’s director of the Centre for Automotive Research and Education Peter Frise said the electrification of the industry requires the school to create new programming to equip students with the knowledge required for new automotive era. “This battery investment is going to have a tremendous impact on the university, just as it will on the community,” Frise said. Frise said virtually every faculty on campus will be touched by the need to introduce new courses or entire programs. He added new spaces and labs will be needed and there are enormous research and development opportunities.

“This is like an iceberg, there’s been a lot going on underneath the surface that you don’t see,” Frise said. “We’ve been working for at least two years on new programming. We’ve seen industry and the world moving toward zero or low emissions. “We’re also working on substantial new initiatives as we speak. It’s not Auto21, but it’s like that type of thing.” Auto21 was a national research initiative focused on advancing automotive development.

LG Energy Solutions director of external affairs and government relations Denise Gray said the company intends to be very proactive in engaging with the college and university on talent development. “LG and Stellantis and the universities working together to retrain some of our workforce,” said Gray of an example of what to expect. “I came from traditional internal combustion engine design work and many of us have retrained. “We have committed to working with universities and post-secondary schools and skilled trades to support them in that transition.”

Goncalves added LG has discussed building a training centre in the new battery plant for students to get hands-on-experience. Plans for exchange programs in South Korea involving both students and faculty members are also being discussed. “This is an opportunity for the university and college to get into new fields,” Goncalves said.

“What better way to create new programming aimed at the future needs of manufacturing and technology than to be able to ask LG exactly what talent and skill sets are required?” St. Clair’s senior vice president-academic and college operations Waseem Habash said the college has identified 13 to 15 programs in the electrification and autonomous vehicles field that are needed in the next three to eight years. “We’re already working on new programming for battery technology and the AI (artificial intelligence) that’ll be used,” Habash said. “We’re aligning with industry needs.” New programming in EV and batteries will be ready in the fall of 2023 while a cybersecurity program will be launched this fall. There are plans to offer micro credentials to upskill graduates or engineers and mechanics already working in the field.

Habash said the college is well down the path on hiring staff with the expertise to develop and teach new programming and has begun partnering with the newly opened Flex-Ion Battery and Innovation Centre on research projects. “There’s going to be a lot of spinoffs from this emerging technology,” Habash said. “The next one is green energy. We’re developing things to address what is needed in green energy to support EVs.” Habash said the college has also applied for several government grants to allow it to build new infrastructure to support the program expansions. “We’ve got to be ready to fill the talent pipeline just before the rush of jobs comes,” Habash said. “We expect that to be late 2024 early 2025. “We’ll be right there with our graduates.”