Put the Brakes on Decline

Put the Brakes on Decline

Derek Thompson, CEO of SparkSafe, asks whether the electrical industry is in need of urgent modernisation.

Back in the early 70’s the public perception and standing of the electrical contracting industry was high in comparison to other construction occupations. Formative structures, supported by the efforts of a dedicated Union, tackled sporadic periods of industrial unrest, allowing the industry to eventually develop and prosper.

During this period, parents of school leavers, especially in working class Britain, identified the job of an electrician as being one of the top trades. Security of employment, higher earnings, status, and job satisfaction typically characterised the perception of the trade.

Weakened industry

However, the past 20 years has seen commercial and reputational decline negatively impacting on large parts of the industry. Successive bouts of economic recession, absence of specific legislation and poor gatekeeping are just a few of the reasons why I believe we now have a weakened industry.

Tribes and silos with disparate positions have formed, dissolved and reformed. Pay and conditions have become unregulated. Poor quality training courses (in parts) continue to dissuade high quality new entrants and undermine authentic apprenticeships.

Although recession has abated, the residual effects and fall out continue to hinder parts of the industry according to regional positioning. Stop-start efforts to bring about effective legislation covering the work and identity of an electrician appear to have made little headway in Edinburgh, London, Cardiff or Belfast.

Access to the industry’s commercial contracts by cowboys and rogue operators has occurred through systematic weakening and neglect of legacy gatekeeping systems. We collectively took our eye off the ball and permitted the entry of unregulated workers into the industry to overcome skill shortages and counter the trend of sub economic tendering.

In the present industry, profits are generally produced from the procurement of materials and VO’s. Remarkably labour costs, skilled or otherwise, on tendered work can be taken as a de facto loss leader.

Why we need a Licence

Licence to Practice is a disruptive concept which carries an inconvenient ‘no pain, no gain’ proposition for the industry. The system is specifically designed to put the brakes on the deterioration of the trade and restore benefit to those who serve and use it.

SparkSafe seeks to achieve this by improving gatekeeping measures that favour responsible contractors and electrical installation workers. Our vision is to achieve positive transformational change of the industry by equipping responsible clients with an inclusive, online gatekeeping system that exclusively favours contractors who only employ Licenced electrical workers.

Too slow

Present attempts at reform appear weak at best and reactionary. We also think the current pace is too slow. Skill shortages, low productivity levels and an aging workforce are problematic across the sector.

Open access

Our ethos is aimed at ensuring open access to an Electrical Licence for all competent electrical workers. To achieve this, we accommodate the interests of workers who choose to possess an occupational skills card and those who do not. We rely on the national occupational standards, together with approved modern and legacy qualifications, to inform and shape our thinking around competency.

Join in

Many of our industry’s problems are self-inflicted and have been brought about by past complacencies and lack of opportunity to be heard. So, why not join in the conversation? We’re open to hearing and learning from stakeholders who wish to rethink, reform and modernise the trade.


For more information about SparkSafe visit: https://sparksafeltp.co.uk/






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