Does the electrical industry do enough to support and encourage older people to join the sector?
The electrical contracting sector is heavily focused on the employment and development of apprentices. This method of entering into the contracting world has been the standard for many years, with schools focusing on getting students into apprenticeships straight after education. Typically, if you didn’t follow this path then getting into the industry became extremely hard – most could only gain entry as an electrician’s mate.
In recent years, the desire for individuals to enter into the industry coupled with the shortage of skilled labour has led to many ‘schools’ and ‘training centres’ popping up offering courses where they proclaim that after completion the person will be a qualified electrician – we all know that is not the case. This culture has led to underskilled individuals undertaking works incorrectly, leaving the customer with poor quality work and a task remaining for an experienced electrician to correct at the increased expense of the unsuspecting consumer. It could be argued that the part P organisations such as the NICEIC and ELECSA prevent this from happening but it’s simply not the case – some do slip through the net. This is one of the reasons that an adult trainee should be considered, having been one myself.
Since school, I always wanted to get into the electrical contracting world but during my leaving interview with the careers advisor and after looking at my projected GCSE results, the teacher announced that I was simply ‘not smart enough’ and I needed to look for more simple career options. After recieving this rather brutal conclusion of my future working life, I ventured into supermarket work until the age of 21. I then found a job at a local plastic manufacturing factory earning slightly better money. I was always a hard worker and did reasonably well in my field progressing through the ranks to a semi-skilled tool setter on extrusion machinery and eventually ended up a shift team leader. As I approached my mid-to-late twenties, the future of my working life and its restrictions were starting to dawn on me – I was extremely unhappy and going to work was damaging my mental health.
One day, I had an altercation with a manager who had taken a disliking to me; it was after the incident I realized I needed to make a change or this was going to kill me. I decided at that point that I was going to become an electrician. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but my mind was made up. At the time, I was working continental shifts and dedicated my days off to learning the trade. I trawled through the phone book ringing electrical contractors offering free labour in exchange for training. I was turned down time and time again.
Eventually, I got work labouring for a local contractor in the next city who was supportive of my cause and began to show me a few things. After working for 9 months with the company on my days off, I was able to get on working with a local contracting company called SB electrical in Derby. I called Simon and persuaded him to take me on working for free on my days off, he was reluctant at first but after a few weeks working for the company we became friends. It was Simon who taught me the installation side of the business and got me through my qualifications to finally become an electrician.
I had reached my goal, through hard work and sheer determination to change my career, but little did I know at that time my journey had only really just begun. While in my final few months of training with SB electrical the engineering manager at my workplace Mr Mike Keen approached me and told me that he had heard I was putting myself through electrical training. He was impressed and asked if I would be interested in a position at the factory in the maintenance department. I thought I could do the job for a short time while I set myself up and then leave to move into contracting with Simon and the other electricians that I had met through the course of my training.
I took the job in the maintenance department and was placed with an older engineer to learn the ropes, this was when things really changed. Over the following 18 months I was exposed to many different aspects of electrical engineering, everything from PLC controls to DC shunt motors and drives, I was hooked and ended up staying for 8 years. Throughout my time at the company, my manager Mike Keen was extremely supportive and the company sponsored me to go to university and complete a degree in electrical and electronic engineering. I now work for a major construction company in their facilities arm as an electrical engineer and I am currently finishing my master’s degree and in the process of applying for chartered status.
I have achieved everything I wanted and way more, but I could not have achieved this without being given the chance by both Simon and Mike. I was given the opportunity and I seized it with both hands. I have been contacted many times by others wishing to follow the same path. Unfortunately, the opportunities are scarce. There are many people out there who either didn’t have the best start in their working life or didn’t decide until later on what they wanted to do.
The electrical contracting industry, like many others, closes its door to all but apprentices. The desire for people to change track and move into the industry has led to ‘training centres’ and online courses popping up all over the country, promising large salaries on the back of short, badly managed training courses that do not produce electricians. This is, in most cases, nothing more than companies looking to make money out of people’s genuine desire to improve their career prospects. I believe there is a remedy to this problem and it is the adult trainee – people that have already had experience in the working environment tend to have a better work ethic and will bring more benefits to a company.
My parting comment is this: give it some consideration – you could change and improve an individual’s prospects while gaining a loyal, hard working member for your contacting team that will probably stick with you for the duration of his working life.
BEng (Hons), MIHEEM.
Technical Operations Manager/Compliance Manager