Andrew Eldred, ECA’s Director of Employment and Skills, looks at why competency and skills will be high on the agenda as we enter a changing climate for training net zero installers.
Without a doubt, the future is electric. With low carbon and digital technologies finally coming to the fore, opportunities for electrotechnical professionals seem boundless. But, the qualifying conditions for claiming your share of the future are also getting tougher. If you can’t show you make the grade, the smart move is to start doing something about it right now.
Competence, and what makes someone competent, have been argued about for years. Discussions take place in industry forums, parliamentary select committees, and on social media. But there are signs we are, at last, edging towards a consensus. If you’re going to install solar PV, storage batteries, EV charging units or heat-pumps, you need technology-specific training, and preferably a relevant OFQUAL regulated qualification. But you also need broader underlying electrotechnical skills, knowledge and experience. These help to create the engineering judgment which is necessary to incorporate new technologies efficiently and safely into the electrotechnical systems of a building. The traditional importance of learning a trade and ‘serving your time’ are ideas starting to win new friends. Crucially, these converts include powerful players who, until recently, have looked indifferent – for example, clients, main contractors and government. There seems a dawning realisation that low trade entry requirements aren’t a great recipe for maintaining high standards of installation quality, efficiency and safety. This is especially so in the case of a technically demanding discipline like electrotechnical.
Raising the bar
New, tougher EAS qualification requirements for qualified supervisors, announced last year, are now already beginning to bite. Next year is likely to see work begin on a new electrotechnical sector-specific competence framework for individuals. Being developed as part of the new, post-Grenfell building safety regime, this framework will almost certainly raise the bar still further. It will encompass underlying trade qualifications, relevant upskilling, and ongoing CPD. The scope and impact of this competence framework is likely to reach well beyond so-called ‘higher-risk’ buildings. Low carbon certification schemes, including MCS and OZEV, are also coming under pressure to give more weight to installers’ broader electrotechnical competence, including underlying trade qualifications. This key recommendation arose from ECA’s Skills 4 Climate report last year, and we’ve been making the case for a more robust approach ever since.
Experienced Worker Assessment
If you have at least five years’ relevant experience but never completed an apprenticeship or equivalent qualification, the Electrotechnical Skills Partnership’s (TESP) Experienced Worker Assessment (EWA) could be your route to industry recognition. The first step in your EWA journey is to complete a simple Skills Scan. This will give you a good indication of how close to the industry recognised competence standard you already are, and where any significant gaps in your knowledge, experience or skills might lie. Next, select a training provider who can support you though the rest of the EWA process, including any top-up training and taking the ‘AM2E’ end-assessment. So far over 3,000 experienced individuals have achieved industry recognition and qualified electrician status in this way.
The bigger picture
Getting the industry ready to support the efficient and safe installation of new technologies shouldn’t just be down to individuals. We need closer cooperation between trade bodies, certification schemes, awarding organisations and training providers. This will improve the range, quality, and cost-effectiveness of new technology training and qualifications. Above all, entry level requirements for this training need to be clearly defined and consistently enforced. For new entrants, we must ensure apprenticeships incorporate more new technology content. ECA’s Luke Osborne is using his place on the government’s Green Apprenticeships Advisory Panel to help make this happen. Finally, we need stronger commitments from industry and government to achieve a huge uplift in the number of apprentices. Compared to other trades, electrotechnical does well to secure around 6,000 new apprentice starts most years. This is just a fraction of the numbers hired in Germany. TESP labour market research confirms that current recruitment rates fall well short of the expected upturn in demand from new technologies. In a sector where 93% of all businesses employ just nine people or less, success in persuading more SME employers to recruit and train an apprentice will be essential.
To discover more about ECA click here