PE’s Patrick Swan discovers more about a grassroots initiative that’s offering a lifeline to electrical apprentices.
The global outbreak of COVID-19 has caused a loss of life on a mass scale and enormous disruption to the global economy, the likes of which haven’t been seen in living memory.
And while governments, businesses and individuals begin to come to terms with a ‘new’ normal in their everyday lives, it’s easy to forget those links in the chain that are simply cut loose at a time of such uncertainty in the world.
Although the electrical industry and its members have been affected at every level during the pandemic, there’s one position that deserves special consideration by the sector: the electrical apprentice.
This is the opinion, at least, of Mark Allison, an experienced electrical contractor, father of four and the founder of Apprentice 121, a grassroots initiative launched to provide electrical apprentices with the support they so badly need at this present time.
Mark began his career in Ministry of Defence environments, working on UK and USAFE air bases across the world. He was even involved with a security project for Her Majesty the Queen!
In 2006 he took the plunge and started his own electrical contracting business, based in East Yorkshire. In keeping with his passion for apprenticeships, one of Mark’s sons is employed in the business as an apprenticeship-trained electrician, another reason that compelled him to create Apprentice 121.
“I believe in giving young people the tools to succeed.” Mark says. “There are many apprentices that have missed out on the opportunity to be present on work-sites for site-based experience and training. That is one of the hidden effects of the pandemic.”
He continues: “The idea for the Apprentice 121 platform came from the fact I’d received a number of enquiries through my own business from apprentices who had lost their jobs during the pandemic. It made me realise that this was probably a big issue nationwide, so Apprentice 121 is designed to get those apprentices back into employment and allow them access to training resources and other support aids that might prove useful.
“We only launched recently, but once the word started to spread we’ve noticed a big upturn in enquiries and interest.”
A little help from my friends
Indeed, what started as an initiative by Mark ‘to help a few people find some work’ has turned into something that is growing far more quickly than he can ever have expected.
“This is in no small part due to the helping hand of some friends within the industry, including the lads from the EGTE podcast who picked up on the initiative very early and continue to support me massively with administrative tasks. NAPIT have also been fundamental in directing people to Apprentice 121 every day.
“Without this continued support, as well as the help we’ve received from others who’ve contributed and pitched in so far, Apprentice 121 wouldn’t be where it is today,” Mark says.
How can apprentices use the platform?
At present, apprentices are getting in touch with Mark via Instagram, LinkedIn and directly through the Apprentice 121 website; Mark will then put candidates in touch with the small but growing network of employers listed on the site that are interested in taking on an apprentice.
Mark explains: “It’s rudimentary, but it works. Many of them just want to finish their NVQs and need access to work sites to be able to do that.
“Because we know there is still some ‘downtime’ for those that may be without employment, the Apprentice 121 website also offers training content by contributors such as Craig O’Neill, who has put together some great material for users to explore and learn from.
“There are also free webinars on surge protection devices, put together by Kirsty Johnson of Surge Protection Devices.”
The proof is in the pudding
Having put around 70 apprentices into employment so far, and with a further 10-15 apprentices getting in touch daily, there’s no denying that Apprentice 121 has come at a time where a solution was desperately needed.
Although COVID-19 has ultimately proved the trigger for such an initiative, Mark feels that the concept is something that’s been required for a long time in the electrical industry.
“I truly believe in the apprentice route and investing in youth”, he says. “A great number of electrical contractors and industry professionals were given their start in that way and I believe that this pathway should be given more attention by our industry as a whole.”
Can electrical professionals contribute?
The beauty of the Apprentice 121 concept is that anyone can contribute – be it offering a short-term work placement for apprentices to demonstrate work on portfolios, [….] training content, resources such as notepads, pads etc, hand tools or other consumables apprentices may find useful.
Mark also stresses the importance of industry stories; tales of apprentices successfully navigating the route, and the results/rewards that completing an electrical apprenticeship has given them.
An uncertain and exciting future
It’s worth remembering that behind every voluntary initiative like Apprentice 121, there’s usually an individual who has put hours of their own time, money and energy into making things a success. Mark sees no financial gain from Apprentice 121 and has managed to keep up with the growth in interest, despite holding down a day job of his own, which is even more admirable.
So, what’s next for Mark and Apprentice 121? “At the moment I’m just trying to help day-to-day as best I can. I didn’t come into this as a business proposition, so I don’t have a plan or agenda,” Mark explains.
“It’s obvious that the space for Apprentice 121 to grow into is significant and with the support that we’ve received already from industry professionals and companies (both big and small), there’s no telling what the future might hold.”
Interested in employing an apprentice?
To continue to grow, Apprentice 121 is reliant on new employers more than anything else. This results in more workplace opportunities for apprentices and the chance for them to finish their NVQs and gain valuable experience on sites. Please get in touch if you are an employer that is interested in taking part in the Apprentice 121 initiative.
Visit the Apprentice 121 website at: https://apprentice121.co.uk/
View Craig O’Neill’s Youtube channel by clicking here