Watch CBS News

Students driven to meet future demand by learning to fix electric vehicles in high school auto shop

High school shop students learn to fix electric vehicles
High school shop students learn to fix electric vehicles 03:33

California has accelerated the thirst for electric vehicles, and as the planet warms and tax credits and subsidies continue to flow, the demand for zero-emission vehicles is surging. One report predicts that by 2050, up to 70 % of all vehicles on U.S. roads could be electric.

One Bay Area high school is doing its part to make sure there are enough certified auto techs and mechanics to keep pace with the technology.

At George Washington High School in San Francisco, Evelyn Monjaras is living her dream of becoming an auto mechanic.

"For me, cars have always been like a really big passion," said Monjaras.

The senior is at the right place at the right time. Washington is the only public high school in the city to offer auto shop.

"I absolutely love it. I like getting my hands dirty, getting into the engine bay," she enthused.

But Monjaras is not just getting her hands on gas-powered engines. She has learned to take apart an electric motor - in this case, a donated Tesla engine. She can then put it all back together again.

"Evelyn's one of our superstars," proclaimed auto instructor Rich Del Rosso, who not only teaches high school students but is also a member and officer of Peninsula Automotive Machinists Lodge 1414 in San Mateo.

Del Rosso told CBS News Bay Area that he believes his young students are facing a well-compensated, challenging future. Currently, there's a shortage of certified auto mechanics. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 655,330 people are employed as auto service tech and mechanics. About 50% of those are certified by the National Institute for Auto Service Excellence or ASE for short. Of those who are certified, only 1.4% are certified to work on EVs.

"They have the opportunity to get into this starting of the electric vehicle phase, that's going to be taking over our automotive industries," said Del Rosso.

California is pushing to remove gas-powered vehicles from its streets, roads, and highways as quickly as possible. By 2026, 35% of all new car models sold in California must be zero emission. By 2035, that percentage soars to 100%.

The demand for electric vehicles is likely to surge soon, and significantly, and these young students are destined to fill the void.

"It's going to be a future for all of us," said Monjaras. "So, it's important to learn."

Older gas-burning cars won't disappear overnight. They'll slowly phase out. So the mechanics of the future will need to be hybrid mechanics.

"They're going to need to know both electric and combustion engines," said Del Rosso.

Electric vehicles require less maintenance and fewer repairs. They're not as complicated mechanically and use fewer fluids such as engine and transmission oils.

But these cars are high voltage, need a different cooling system, and thanks to the battery, are heavier. The battery placement is typically the entire undercarriage of the car.

"Your tires do get worn more just because of the weight of the battery," cautioned Monjaras.

Brakes and suspension systems are standard mechanical items but if they sit behind or around any of the EV components, they require a different repair.

Seniors Wilson Chan and Zoie Quach are thrilled with the challenge of learning about EVs. Quach is intrigued with artificial intelligence and wants to deepen her experience by learning about these cars. On this day, they're putting together a "Switch Car," made by a company headquartered in Sebastopol. Assembling this car teaches the students about electricity, batteries, and the concept of torque.

"We actually assembled this as a collective team," exclaimed Chan.

"I feel it's important to learn about them because it will give you an alternate choice," added Quach.

Del Rosso credits the community including Washington High School's principals and trade unions for keeping auto shop alive. The auto shop accepts donated vehicles and toolboxes.

"We're going to have a better world for it and these students are taking advantage of what we have here at Washington and a lot of them are interested in getting into the field of mechanics," said Del Rosso.

Monjaras is determined to succeed.

"Like my dad said, people are going to tell you, 'No,' but you have to be persistent and push through," said Monjaras.

In California, the union wage for auto mechanics in the Bay Area is about $40/hour plus benefits and a pension.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.