Bright Sparks

Bright Sparks

Back in September PE wsas invited to a special roundtable event in Coventry to discuss one of the industry’s most pressing  issues – how to attract new talent into the electrical sector.

Malcolm Duncan, Managing Director at Super Rod, explains why he feels so strongly about apprenticeships and getting the industry to collaborate to get more talented youngsters into the business.

There was a time when learning a skilled trade was something to be proud of. My Dad was an electrician and from the age of 11, I would often help him out in exchange for pocket money. When I left school at 16, I too was fortunate enough to get myself a trade apprenticeship and I’m proud to say the skills and knowledge I learned on the job have helped me get to where I am today.

Nowadays, things are very different for young people – vocational apprenticeships seem to be considered a lesser career option, as thousands rush for a place at university. When did learning a skilled profession and running your own business become so unappealing?

The electrical industry needs more bright, young people who have the skills and aptitude to keep up with the increasing complexity of our business and the pace technology is advancing. To attract these people, we need to show future electricians what’s so great about a career in our industry.

So where do we begin? The issues facing modern apprenticeships are complex and touch every corner of the industry, so we need to start by digging deeper to fully understand the challenges, and indeed, the opportunities ahead. This is where the idea for the roundtable event came about.

We invited people from across the industry, including electrical contractors, educators and trainers, the NICEIC, electrical wholesalers and distributors to get their views on the issues and to see if the appetite was there for change.

“The electrical industry needs more bright, young people who have the skills and aptitude to keep up with the increasing complexity of our business and the pace technology is advancing.”

During the evening, we arranged for three speakers to share their unique insights into the challenges and opportunities the industry was facing. These included Liam Sammons, Commercial Director for training provider JTL, who talked about the changing education landscape; Adrian Rees, General Manager at CEFCO, who talked about careers and opportunities in the electrical industry; and Stella Hegarty, General Manager for HR at 3M, who shared her experience on approaches to in-house training.

In between the presentations, there was plenty of opportunity for sharing views, lively debate and discussion. There was agreement across the board that now was the time to act to attract more people into the industry – we are potentially facing a huge skills shortage in the UK when Britain finally exits the EU in 2019. We simply don’t have the skilled labour to replace the European professionals we will be losing.

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Education is pivotal
The discussions were kicked off with a big question – how do we change hearts and mindsets about vocational careers? Even in the face of crippling student debt and rising tuition fees, young people are still being pushed down the university route of study, with vocational apprenticeships and the opportunity to learn a trade deemed a lesser career option.

Many at the roundtable agreed that the industry needs to work alongside secondary schools and colleges to break down outdated perceptions of apprenticeships to young people, their parents and teachers.

Education seemed very pivotal to discussions, and there is clearly a lot of scope for the industry to work more closely with schools and colleges, and even awarding bodies.

Fit for purpose?
Another issue raised was about ensuring apprenticeship programmes of study are fit for purpose, equipping young people with the skills they need to succeed in the modern electrical industry; some suggested this could include other useful skills like business skills, marketing, how to do quotes, time management, even customer service which all help in the real world of work.

One burning question discussed was are we offering apprentices enough exposure to the latest technologies they will be working on? For example, should colleges have LED lights as well as bayonet fittings for practical work? Could manufacturers contribute to the upskilling of students by supporting colleges with donations of equipment to ensure that apprentices have hands on experience of the kind of tech they will be fitting in the real world?

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Employer support
On the flip side of the apprenticeship debate is the people who will employ them – are we doing enough to support electrical contractors or businesses looking to take on an apprentice? 88% of employers in the industry are micro businesses, employing 0-9 people. Research suggests electrical contractors are time pressured, concerned about the commitment of taking on an apprentice and there are lots of misconceptions about how the process works.

If we are to encourage businesses to take on apprentices, we need to dispel the myths and provide proper advice and support for contractors taking a young person on as an apprentice. Is this something that training companies can offer, helping to match young people with a suitable employer and providing support throughout the process?

The idea of collaboration was a theme that kept coming up time and again during the roundtable discussion. If we are going to create lasting change, it’s going to be a team effort and electrical contractors are certainly an important part of the solution. They are the ones who can give young people the opportunity to learn a skilled trade (not just make the tea) and a step up into the vibrant, exciting industry that we are proud to be part of. Now is the time to speak up and give your opinions on how we can make apprenticeships better. The industry is listening.

If you have any comments or thoughts about apprenticeships, please email:

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