Although there are many professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty for our electrical industry, some neither court nor receive the recognition they deserve. In this article, we find out more about one of our industry’s ‘unsung heroes’.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every corner of the electrical industry – from the very largest corporations down to the smallest of electrical contractors.
Although we’re all likely to be living with some level of uncertainty for the immediate future at least, it’s often during the toughest of times that the real heroes emerge in any industry and the electrical sector is no exception to this rule.
Working during a global pandemic to ensure customers, businesses and vital infrastructure remain operational and safe is a commendable act in itself. And yet further still there are many examples of individuals doing right by one another and committing themselves to helping people they may never have met before, all in the name of the greater good.
The impact on training and learning
One of the most significant impacts that the pandemic has had on the electrical industry is the disruption to those who may be learning the trade, or are on the path to becoming qualified electricians. This is especially true of apprentices.
As we reported in a recent article about the launch of the Apprentice 121 initiative, getting apprentices and trainees back into learning and on to work sites is a pressing priority, especially if they’re to gain the job-site experience required of their apprenticeship pathway.
But what about the theory side of things and the training associated with this? Again, with many apprentices currently looking for an employer to take a chance on them, there’s the real danger that many would have simply slipped through the net or been lost to other industries other the past six months.
Fortunately, we have some truly dedicated professionals in our electrical industry who have been working tirelessly to provide training and support for those who really need it. One such individual is David Watts.
Better known by his stage name – SparkyNinja – David’s reputation as a trusted and highly competent professional may well be due in equal measures to the hours of content he produces for the SparkyNinja YouTube channel, alongside his work with the e5 Group, of which he is one of the founding members. That said, before either SparkyNinja or the e5 Group even existed, there was simply David Watts, so it’s important to understand the individual and the journey that has taken him to this point.
From testing to training
In the very beginning, David took – in his own words – the ‘standard’ route (or at least what was once considered the standard route) to becoming an electrical professional – an electrical apprenticeship with the family firm, coupled with a passion and interest in all things electrical.
After completing the 2391 inspection and testing qualification David, much like the majority of newly qualified electricians, soon found his preferred niche. “I liked the testing work so much that I left the contracting side after several years and went to work with a local authority, working on the void properties,” David says.
After setting up an electrical contracting business with his father, Phil, David’s focus shifted towards the training sector. “My Dad had already been doing part time training for a couple of years by this time, and I was asked to pop in and cover for the workshop technician one evening,” explains David.
“It ended up being quite a nice hourly rate for just a few hours’ work and, on reflection, that evening probably had the biggest impact on my career.”
He continues: “I found the experience both unnerving and exciting at the same time. I’d always been the kind of person to keep quiet, not volunteer and to shy away in the background, keeping my head down and plodding on with the work.
“But having these guys at the college all looking in my direction for instruction and guidance on something that I knew how to do just made me want to better myself. Could I offer them more?”
After the session had finished, it some became apparent that David wasn’t the only one who had enjoyed the experienced.
He says: “I found that many of the students were responding very well to having a teacher with the desire to push them intellectually and engage with them at a higher level. I believe that some of this was due to the fact I was approaching the task from a different angle.
“I’ve always felt that teaching any kind of student, no matter the industry type, how to simply pass exams and tests will result in a disinterested student overall and perhaps a less enthusiastic and competent professional.”
Moving to a private training company, David’s experience of the “wonder that is domestic electrical installer training” and the Competent Person Scheme (CPS) model was certainly formative. And while he acknowledges that much has been done to tighten and improve these schemes in recent times, at that particular juncture there was much left to be desired.
Not only did David now have a passion and aptitude for teaching and training, he also had a burning desire to improve standards in the industry. And it’s from this point that the SparkyNinja project emerged.
Perhaps the best – and simplest – way of defining David’s goals for SparkyNinja can be found in the very pseudonym he uses. “I call it the SparkyNinja ‘project’ because that is exactly what it is,” he says. “The end goal is to return electricians to where they were when I entered this sector – the wizards of the construction industry, who are well paid and respected due to their levels of competency.”
It’s almost a decade now since the SparkyNinja YouTube channel emerged, and since then David has dedicated countless hours to producing videos and content that can provide valuable CPD and understanding to industry learners. The emergence of different social media and online platforms has also meant that SparkyNinja’s reach is even greater.
“It’s all been done with the aim of creating a community of electricians and members of the electrotechnical industry that will support one another and help to raise standards. The work we’ve been doing with SparkyNinja – especially in conjunction with the e5 group initiative – has been important and formative for many young and budding electricians. That said, it has never been more important than it is right now.”
Stepping up to the plate
It’s scary to think that it was almost eight months ago that the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to become apparent, and while many in the industry were considering the best ways to take their electrical businesses and careers forward, David realised that this was his time to utilise the platform he had steadily built since 2012.
He explains: “When COVID-19 hit and the lockdown was announced, all of my existing work was cancelled. I then looked for some CPD to undertake as/when I had the opportunity to do so, but personally found it to be lacking. It was at this point that I decided I had a duty to provide something for electricians, especially with the number of individuals that were now following the SparkyNinja group.”
To say David has stepped things up a notch over the last few months would be an understatement, having delivered (at the time of writing) 45 free webinars to over 5,500 individuals – all in his own time, and all in the name of advancing the knowledge and support available to electricians.
“The engagement from those partaking in the webinars was truly brilliant,” says David. “Listeners were engaging so much that the webinars frequently ran well over 90 minutes in length, when the original intention was around 45 minutes per session.
“The amount of knowledge out there in our industry is amazing and if we can find the right places to network together and respect each other we will all learn and improve as a result. If we can then bring new entrants, apprentices, and existing learners into this environment of respect, the future for electricians is going to be very bright.”
Although he’s certainly not alone on this front, David is a fantastic example of the way that individuals within the electrical industry are prepared to give their time and knowledge for the greater good. The pandemic, rather than weakening such resolve, seems to have actually strengthened it, with the electrotechnical industry once again proving that it has the spirit to grow stronger, no matter what is thrown at it.
So, when we look back on 2020 in future years to come lets hope it will also be remembered for the contribution that the likes of David have made to ensuring new entrants to the electrical industry have avoided being left behind.
Visit the SparkyNinja Youtube channel by clicking here
Check out the SparkyNinja Facebook group by clicking here