Following the success of its launch to the Northern Irish market, we find out why SparkSafe’s UK arrival could be the catalyst for a fully licenced electrical trade.
SparkSafe LtP has emerged from the Electrical Training Trust (ETT), an employer-led training organisation. Established in 1998 by employers, ETT has championed the development of employer-led Level 3 electrical apprenticeship training and adult worker upskilling in Northern Ireland.
Improving quality and raising standards throughout the industry falls within the scope and mission of the organisation, which is self-funded and operates independently of, but is complimentary to, other regulated industry bodies.
In 2009, the Board of Employers initiated research into the development of an online solution aimed at tackling the absence of effective control measures to curb the entry of unqualified and underqualified electrical workers into the sub-contract supply chain.
Local employers and UK stakeholders, including SELECT, NICEIC, ECA and JIB, accepted invitations to learn more about the plans to develop a suitable Licence to Practice system at the 2011 SparkChange Conference.
“The SparkChange Conference helped shape our thinking and encouraged the team to develop a new and unique gatekeeping system to favour and protect bona fide Electrical Contractors and skilled workers – from cowboy operators and sub-economic tenderers,” commented Lewis Darragh, SparkSafe Chairman.
How does it work?
SparkSafe provides online visibility to responsible clients by connecting pre-licenced electrical workers via registered Electrical Contractors to construction contracts and employment opportunities; essentially it will act as a Licence to Practice, both for electrical contracting businesses and their qualified personnel.
Public sector clients have been the first to specify the system as a pre-tender condition and the system obliges the successful Main Contractor to only employ a registered Electrical Contractor and licensed electrical workers.
Speaking about the first year of activity, Derek Thompson a former JIB Electrician, Managing Director, ECA Branch Chairman and current CEO of ETT said: “We’re on course to see a billion pounds worth of contracts becoming subject to the requirements of the system since its launch in February 2016.”
Simon Hamilton, the then Minister for the Department of Finance and Personnel and Des Armstrong, Director of the Central Procurement Directorate, helped launch the SparkSafe initiative, with the Minister stating: “SparkSafe is an excellent example of innovation, where the local construction industry has developed and presented a solution to government to address an important issue. The objectives of this initiative are commendable.”
Professor Rudi Klein, Chief Executive of the SEC Group, added: “With the backing of the construction authorities in Northern Ireland it seems that SparkSafe is set to transform the construction industry.”
Northern Ireland has so far been used as a pilot territory by SparkSafe to test and refine the system for the benefit of Electrical Contractors and workers in the UK.
Concerns about the existing gatekeeping arrangements prompted the organisation to revisit an idea first considered by the EETPU in the 1970s.
The SparkSafe system is currently being offered to clients, contractors and workers as a means of restoring the value proposition of the industry’s best asset – the worker. The principle of connecting competency with contracts underpins the strength of the new system.
Clients who make use of the system are provided with an online end-to-end view of individual workers by Licence type by means of a workforce composition report.