Malcolm Duncan, Managing Director at Super Rod, discusses what the electrical industry needs to do achieve a parity of esteem and attract the best young minds into apprenticeships.
Back in 1981, when I was due to leave school at the age of 16, choices were limited. With unemployment over 2,500,000 and 6,000 people losing their jobs every single day, it was simple either college or try and ﬁnd a job.
I was extremely fortunate to actually not just land a job, but a trade apprenticeship that would set me up for life. I thought I had hit the jackpot. While the world around me was rioting against the government of the day, or stomping to the tunes of Ghost Town by the Specials, I actually had a job that both paid me and trained me.
Since then, certain things have changed. Firstly the choices our children face are a lot more complicated. The most signiﬁcant changes involve education, with many schools now making it compulsory to stay on until your 18 (unless you either have a job or training in place). Plus now, if you decide to go to university, you’re expected not only to leave with a degree but also with debts of around £60,000.
The time is right for the apprenticeship system to step up. Everyone is aware that we have a huge skills gap in the UK. How can we, as members of our trade, play our part in developing the next generation of sparks?
With 80% of people in the UK working for small to medium sized companies, it makes sense to start there. But how does a small contractor go about growing their business and engaging an apprentice? In 2015, Super Rod partnered with JTL who, for many years, have worked alongside contractors to guide them along this path, assisting with recruiting and training young people. We played our part by donating tool kits to all the new apprentices recruited by JTL for the next ﬁve years. The idea behind this was simple. Firstly, we wanted to give the apprentices the best possible start, with the best possible tools. Super Rod also wanted to support the parent or employer who would normally be landed with the bill for this.
My personal reason for supporting this project is simple: I believe in the apprenticeship system, and feel we all have a duty to put something back into an industry that has supported us all. But aside from that – dare I say – moral duty, why should we?
On the first #ToolKitThursday, our distribution days where we give out 1,500 tool kits over 75 locations on a single day, I was fortunate to meet not only a lot of the apprentices but also their parents. Given this opportunity I asked how they felt about their bright young things choosing an apprenticeship as opposed to going down the university route.
“On the first #ToolKitThursday, our distribution days where we give out 1,500 tool kits over 75 locations on a single day, I was fortunate to meet not only a lot of the apprentices but also their parents.”
Two subjects came up again and again. The ﬁrst was money. The thought of £60,000 debt hanging over their child even before they started work terriﬁed most parents. But the second subject surprised me. Many of the parents viewed an apprenticeship as a “second best option” only really open to those not smart enough to go to university. Well anyone who has worked with the 17th Edition, Building Management Systems and lighting schemes may argue that point!
Since when did a vocational apprenticeship and the opportunity to learn a trade and run your own business become so unappealing? Rather than technically skilled professionals, tradespeople are all too often lazily stereotyped as the typical ‘white van man’.
With false perceptions of the trade so ingrained in our culture, how on earth can a parity of esteem be achieved?
Where do we start?
This started me thinking about what we can do as an industry to readdress this and play our part in attracting the best and the brightest (yes because that’s what we need) into our industry. I strongly believe that the best way we can improve perceptions of our trade is through communication and collaboration.
So where do we start? There are 2,000 wholesale locations across the UK, many with hundreds of contractors visiting each every week. What if these businesses also became information hubs, connecting employers, trainers, and potential employees together?
We currently have an outline plan in place to make this a reality in Q3 this year, so watch this space. In the meantime this is a passion of mine and if you have any ideas or suggestions on how we can all play a part in moving our industry forward it would be great to hear from you.