Edison Energy recently sat down with Kameale Terry and Evette Ellis, co-founders of Los Angeles-based EV technology company ChargerHelp!, which provides on-demand technical support for EV charging stations. Terry, who serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer, and Ellis, the company’s Chief Workforce Officer, shared their mission of leveraging technology to ensure optimal charging infrastructure nationwide while creating a skilled and diverse workforce.
It must have been fate that brought Kameale Terry and Evette Ellis together. The two met while volunteering at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), with Terry bringing years of experience in developing EV charging infrastructure, while Ellis had a long career in workforce development.
“When I started working with Kameale at LACI, she told me of this idea that she had,” Ellis said. “I thought it was brilliant. I didn’t quite understand where I fit in, but when she shared with me how workforce development was key and we were going to take people from the gas and oil and automotive industries and the internet and cable installation industry and transfer them over to clean technology, I knew she was onto something.”
The idea for starting the company was borne of a gap that Terry identified early on–up to 40 percent of “in-service” EV charging stations were, in fact, not functioning and offline. And while it was relatively easy to find electricians to install EV charging stations, says Terry, it was much harder to find qualified technicians to repair those stations when they experienced technology issues.
“You could install stations all day, but if half of them don’t work, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “What we were seeing was that 80 percent of the issues weren’t electrical–they were software issues, they were communication issues, they were firming issues. So, when I started volunteering at LACI, I said, ‘Let’s train people at these charging stations and let’s get them jobs in the industry.”
But when Terry and Ellis approached manufacturers to tell them that their EV charging stations were not functioning and that they could help train people to fix them, they hit a dead end.
“Their resounding comments were that they’re a software company, they just make charging stations, or they just make software,” Terry said. “That’s really when Evette and I said, ‘Okay, what if we had a company and we hired these people. Would you hire us?’ And that is how we started to think about our company and how we started recruitment.”
In January 2020, the pair launched ChargerHelp! to provide on-demand technical support for charging stations. Headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, the company has developed a mobile application and web-based platform that enables a local workforce to complete site reviews, commissioning, and preventative, standard, and emergency maintenance for electric vehicle supply equipment. The company aggregates Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) network provider and manufacturers error codes and station issues to provide better insight into station resolution and maintenance.
“We’re a technology and workforce enabler, so we see that as being a service provider that transitions folks into this work by leaning into technology,” Terry said. “From the street lines to the sidewalks to what we drive on– all these things are going to be connected by computers, and the person that has to go out and fix that cannot only just fix the physical aspect of it. They need to understand how to fix the software component of it. ChargerHelp! is not just EV charging; it’s looking at all connected devices moving forward and how we bring new people into these spaces by leaning into technology.”
Creating jobs that people want
The company also provides a robust training program for its technicians, who earn an EVSE maintenance certification by completing a proprietary curriculum that is focused on OCPP (Open Point Charge Protocol) software and hardware issues.
ChargerHelp! collaborates with local workforce centers and creates partnerships with organizations to train and hire from local communities. The company has also found ways to attract the best and brightest to its team via the implementation of practices and a training curriculum that is designed to ensure all applicants have a fair opportunity to join their team.
“We create jobs,” Ellis said. “But you really have to commit to it–you can’t just say, ‘We’re a good company, we have good intentions.’ We are two Black women. We don’t think about how to be diverse–we just are.”
The focus on workforce development is key to ensuring that the appropriate maintenance and operations of the nation’s EV charging infrastructure.
“Today we see in our nation that there is no standard around operations and maintenance, that there are no requirements for stations to be online and working,” Terry said. “It’s so important that we continue to push to have a level of excellence for our infrastructure in the same way we expect it of oil and gas. The best thing about pushing on that is that it means that companies such as ours can create more good jobs. These things cannot be seen as separate from one another–they have to be seen as combined. Good jobs equal maintaining and keeping our infrastructure online.”
The company’s workforce development program speaks for itself. The last round of recruitments to fill 20 positions resulted in 1,600 applicants–an impressive achievement, particularly considering the recent “Great Resignation” of millions of Americans beginning last spring.
“That’s because we had jobs that people wanted to apply to,” Terry said. “It’s the dignity in that job. If you start off with good jobs, it’s just the best thing you can do for your business. I think that you’re seeing this shift happen within the industry where it’s not that people don’t want to work–they want to feel valued. They want to feel that when they spend eight hours at a job, their paycheck is enough. We’ve looked at what happens when you don’t take care of your workers, when you aren’t thinking about the quality of jobs. How does that impact not just Black and Brown communities but the entire economy? You have people leaving jobs in droves.”
To further remove barriers to recruitment and hiring, the company provides accessible, no-cost training and makes sure to recruit talent from non-traditional pipelines.
“This is new territory—it’s the wild, wild west– so you see systemic racism,” Ellis said. “You look at a traditional job description where people ask for things that they don’t actually need because we have technology. We have kept Black and Brown people and women out. With technology, we can create an even playing field. This way we can all compete. We use technology to enable people to move into spaces.”
Terry and Ellis ensure that their workforce receives the most up-to-date training, while also streamlining the process and shortening the timeline so that technicians can get to work.
“We’ve been able to lean into the technology and cut down on the overall training time,” Terry said. “For one training, it might take 5,000 hours to reach mastery. But what is to say we can’t utilize VR or AR to help create mastery in less amount of time? I think that it’s possible, so that’s what we’ve been leaning into–allowing technology to remove those barriers.”
Check out additional conversations with leading experts from across the industry in our Visionary Voices: Perspectives in Energy Series.