Diane Johnson, Chair of The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP), discusses potential solutions to the industry’s skills shortage.
Apprentices have always been a crucial part of succession planning in this industry. Many business owners and industry leaders started their working lives with an apprenticeship and have subsequently gone on to hire, develop and mentor a succession of young people who may one day ﬁll their shoes.
However, the ability of these ﬁrms to recruit and train apprentices is very much at the mercy of the business climate, and when the recession started in 2008 many ﬁrms no longer had the resources necessary to recruit and train apprentices. At the same time, the average age of an electrician continued to rise, setting the industry up for a skills crisis as many electricians retired, changed career or moved into management roles during the period between the recession beginning and recovery starting.
This shortage seemed to be a problem for the future, but last year signs began to emerge that suggested it may also cause issues in the short-term as well. The ECA’s Employment and Skills survey, which was published last summer, revealed that 40% of respondents were currently experiencing a shortage of skills in their business, with a greater proportion expecting to experience one in three years’ time. This news was accompanied by articles in the media that reported how a shortage of skills was directly affecting firms’ ability to win and deliver work.
“Apprenticeship numbers have improved since then. The latest ﬁgures from the Government show that 1,100 more electrotechnical apprentices started their training in the 2014-15 academic year than in the 2013-14 one.”
Apprenticeship numbers have improved since then. The latest ﬁgures from the Government show that 1,100 more electrotechnical apprentices started their training in the 2014-15 academic year than in the 2013-14 one. This is welcome news, but, because our apprenticeship – like other specialist engineering disciplines – typically takes four years to complete, this approach will not help those employers who need qualiﬁed electricians now.
Look within the industry
So what’s the solution? How can we boost the number of skilled workers in this industry? Is there a way we can boost the number of qualiﬁed electricians without compromising the high standards we require all our trainees to achieve?
Actually, there is – and the solution comes from within the industry. There are a vast number of people who, for a multitude of different reasons, never completed, or never had the chance to start, an electrotechnical apprenticeship. Despite these initial setbacks, these people found work in the industry and have over time developed a skillset which would give them the capability to work as an electrician if their experience and knowledge could be formalised in an industry recognised qualiﬁcation.
To give these people the opportunity to gain the recognition they need, TESP launched its Career Progression Programme in November of last year. The initiative provides a £500 discount on JTL’s Mature Candidate Scheme – a JIB-accredited assessment service which is offered utilising recognised qualiﬁcations from City and Guilds and EAL. Those who complete the programme will receive a free ECS Gold Card and a cash bonus of £70, which is paid once the candidate has passed the AM2. We’re also able to offer the ﬁrst 100 successful candidates free membership of the Institution of Engineering and Technology at Technician level.
I hope that the Career Progression Programme will provide those people who have the capability and the experience to work as electricians the opportunity to qualify to the industry standard. In doing so, I hope this will allow our industry to make the most of a large potential talent pool that currently isn’t being tapped into and help ﬁrms make the most of the improved business climate and the demand for electrotechnical skills.
The ﬁrst candidates have now enrolled in the Career Progression Programme, and I hope that more will follow. We’re keen to help anyone who has the skills, capabilities and experience to have that recognised and be able to work as an electrician. Hopefully, this is the ﬁrst of many initiatives from TESP to help those people who are close to reaching the industry standard achieve it – and to help our industry to solve the skills shortage it faces.