From education to employment

A letter from the electrotechnical industry

Andrew Eldred, Director of Workforce and Public Affairs, Electrical Contractors' Association

A recent article by Richard Ng states we need a large-scale change to training and qualifications for the UK to achieve net zero. While we agree there is a labour shortage in the UK, this would be the case regardless of changing technology. The country has a demographic timebomb affecting all sectors.  His assertion we need two million skilled green jobs is plain wrong. The term ‘green job’ is a misnomer, it is neither understood by young people, nor industry.

The future of net zero skills

The net zero world is accelerating apace. The technologies are evolving equally fast. To train simply as an installer of solar PV will not equip you to be an installer of future technology or to retrofit a building. Neither will it equip you to understand how that piece of tech. integrates with other low carbon technologies. It might in fact lead to greater carbon emissions, through a malfunctioning building. But most worryingly, without the right level of competence, it could prove dangerous to consumers and lead to grid capacity issues. The safe and reliable electricity we all enjoy today in the UK relies on a century of work to maintain high standards.

Safe and reliable electricity

Working with electricity inevitably carries risks. There are legal requirements to ensure that individuals who do so have the full range of competences to do so. The considered judgment of industry employers (via apprenticeship standards) and trade and certification bodies (via organisational certification requirements) is that completion of an apprenticeship, or equivalent training route, is the minimum threshold for electrical competence. Would you want an electrical installation in your home fitted by someone without the right level of competence?

Of course the non-electrical work of fitting a solar panel can be done by a roofer. This is what happens already, nobody is saying this activity requires someone to be electrically qualified. Few electricians would choose to do the roofing work anyway.

How long does it take to become an electrical apprentice?

Richard Ng claims it takes five years to complete an electrical apprenticeship. The Installation Electrician/ Maintenance Electrician apprenticeship takes four years. The Domestic Electrician apprenticeship takes three. Apprentices start learning on the job early on. They progress from basic to more complex tasks as their knowledge, skills and experience increase. What’s more they have a professional career to rely on, which gives them flexibility and an agility to pivot to new markets.

After completing an apprenticeship, it takes just four days to upskill to install solar PV.  Maintaining a broad electrical knowledge and skills foundation means electricians can turn their hand to a range of other technologies. This would include heat pumps, energy storage systems, EV charge-points and smart building controls.

Fast track courses spell danger

A positive outcome of the appalling Grenfell Tower tragedy is an increased emphasis on competence and safety. We would strongly recommend individuals and organisations think twice before advocating ‘fast track’ training into occupations with such significant implications for fire and building safety, not to mention potential negative impacts on the grid if solar PV is installed incorrectly.                             

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