Electrical Industry Skills Shortage

Electrical industry skills shortage

The electrical industry is expecting a skills shortage following market research report.

The UK electrical Industry is expecting a skills shortage following new report. It is estimated that between 12,500 and 15,000 additional skilled electricians are needed over the next 5 years to accommodate sector expansion following a new labour market report on the electrotechnical industry.

Even if an extra 5000 new apprentices qualified by 2023, there will still be a shortfall of 7,500 to 10,000 electricians who will need to be sourced from elsewhere.

The reason for the electrotechnical sector expansion is due to grow in future technologies such as; SMART technology, e-mobility and Wi-FI technology. Other areas that are likely to influence the sector include changes to regulations and public policy in areas such as energy efficiency and fire safety.

Whilst the largest proportion of the UK workforce is between 25 and 49 years old, England and Wales have only around 15% of their workforce under the age of 25, compared to 24% for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Electrical Industry Skills Shortage
Image courtesy of electrical contractor B.N.E.C. Ltd

New labour market report on the electrical industry.

The market research report produced by specialist Pye Tait was commissioned by The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP) and co-funded with industry charity National Electrotechnical Training (NET). The report is the first to provide an in-depth analysis of electrotechnical skills needs in over 10 years. Almost 450 electrotechnical companies, with around 19,000 employees were surveyed. Want to have a read of the report? Click here.

What does the JIB say?

Joint Industry Board (JIB) Chief Executive, Steve Brawley says “This valuable report by Pye Tait gives the JIB and TESP an excellent platform to develop initiatives and projects which will take the industry forward. However, the industry will not be able to recruit the 12,500 to 15,000 additional electricians it needs over the next five years without much higher levels of direct employment. Clients and main contractors need to do more to encourage direct employment and the Government must also play its part by adopting policies which drive down levels of false self-employment. Apprenticeships and programmes to upgrade the skills of individuals already working in our industry are the key to success but they cannot be effective unless direct employment is the norm.” 

What does this mean for the electrical industry?

It is apparent that if the industry cannot support the additional growth within the next 5 years, there will be a skills shortage. When a skills shortage occurs, one of two things could happen;

  1. The wages for competent people increase because they become sought after due to demand and lack of supply of quality tradesmen.
  2. The wages for competent people decrease because it opens the doors for non-competent people to work in the industry due to demand and lack of supply of quality tradesmen.

Over the last 15 years, the level of quality of training for electricians in the UK has decreased. Gaining entry into the industry has become easier due to short courses that are easily available and affordable. There are many experienced trainers who will admit this is the case.

The problem caused by poor training are; the quality of work that is carried out declines, reduced level of electrical safety, reduction in wages for the competent electricians and false economy.

Let us look into this further.

Quality of work

If the training isn’t as vigorous and becomes easy, it means more people will pass and ‘qualify’. This doesn’t mean someone is competent. It allows an accepted standard of work to be reduced. When guys and girls qualify and work in people’s homes and commercial buildings, the workmanship is reduced. It takes experience and time to increase your skills.

Sitting a short course gives you an understanding, but not the experience. When you terminate a copper conductor, there is a manner in how it should be done which reduces the chance of a loose termination which could lead to a fire. Someone who has been taught how to do it correctly and has practised a few hundred times is far less likely to cause a fire than someone who has done it once or twice and not shown how to do it correctly. Carrying out work as a tradesman takes time to master. It cannot be taught quickly for the average person and where safety is concerned, I believe it is completely unethical.

Electrical Safety

The reason for having wiring regulations and UK legislation is to prevent injury, damage or death via electric shock or activity caused by electricity.

Lack of knowledge and understanding of electrical systems is more likely to decrease electrical safety.

Having electrical safety systems and procedures in place can be costly but being liable for the death of a human is far costlier in my opinion. The biggest flaw in UK legislation in regard to electrical and fire safety is that the client is ultimately responsible to ensure they meet said legislation as well as being responsible for the budget of the works being carried out. There isn’t a requirement in many instances for a client to have any works third party audited where the auditor is ultimately responsible.

Due to commercial pressure and the desire for higher profits, clients can quite easily achieve a better margin by cutting out level of electrical and fire safety and therefore a culture is created where the client’s attitude completely sets the level of safety, not the law.

Wages

There are a few ways to become an electrician. Typically, you have an apprenticeship where a student learns as she earns or someone who sits a short course. Without going into too much detail, the apprentice will endure a number of years partly in college and partly on site who will complete a portfolio of evidence to prove they have met the criteria and completed a final practical examination in order to obtain the title as an ‘electrician’.

The guy who sits the short course has little practical experience, learns all they need to know in a very short space of time and once qualified can go out into the real world connecting up systems that can kill people or cause fires – scary hey? Carrying out a trade requires on site experience which is key for competence because there is only so much you can learn practically in a class room.

The guys who have sat the short courses are likely to accept less money because they have not invested as much time, energy, emotion and effort into their role as the time served electrician who worked for little money for years and put hours and hours into the class room during their apprenticeship.

The outcome of quality and knowledge is most certainly relative to training. Therefore, the market value of the electrician wage is reduced for every short course electrician that works in the industry and accepts lower rate of pay.

False Economy

Having poor quality electrical work carried out is false economy because it is very costly to repair or completely rewired. It doesn’t last and increases the chance for fires and faults to occur. Time is then required to investigate the installation and then repair it. Of course, this is only true if a problem does occur.

Lower quality workmanship increases the chances of the works being non-compliant if the installers do not have sufficient experience and knowledge of the systems they are working on.

Who benefits from the electrical industry skills shortage?

It can’t be all doom and gloom right? Surely sector expansion is a great prospect for the economy? Does anyone benefit from the UK Electrical Industry Skills Shortage?

Competent Person Schemes (CPS)

In the UK it has become easier to become accredited by a competent person scheme such as NICEIC, Elecsa, Napit or Stroma due to the introduction of the short courses. If the CPS’s have more companies signing up with them, their revenues increase. If the accepted level of contractor decreases such as accepting those who sit short courses, the CPS’s open their doors to additional revenue. Sounds like a no brainer for a business.

Training Providers

Training providers can benefit from the UK Electrical Industry Skills Shortage as many individuals will look to change career or start out in the electrical industry in seek of well-paid work. Some will not be conscious about being ‘competent’ and it allows training providers to sell their courses. When a training provider has a high pass rate, it is a selling point to a potential candidate because who wants to fail??? What this actually does is contribute to reducing the market value of the electrician as discussed earlier.

Clients

Clients can also use buying power to drive costs down during the UK Electrical Industry Skills Shortage. If the market value of the electrician is decreased due to an increase of workers who haven’t served apprenticeships and gain quick entry into the industry, it allows the client to pressurise their supply chain to keep charge rates down. The client benefits by not paying a higher rate of pay if only competent electricians were allowed to work on such systems.

Electrical industry to boost the economy

It certainly seems like fantastic news for the economy that an additional 12,500 to 15,000 electricians’ jobs will be created within the next 5 years. However, the UK Electrical Industry Skills Shortage and the shortfall of people expected to be produced by apprenticeships could be a concern. The alternatives are; foreign labour which is perfectly fine if the foreign labour is able to understand and work to British Standards or an increase in semi-skilled labour produced by short courses.

Let’s hope that the guys and girls in the field who have invested a life time of work will benefit from increased amount of work from new technologies.

How do you feel about the prospect of up to 15,000 jobs being created to fill an electrical industry market expansion? Let us know in the comments.

The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP) is a not-for-profit industry partnership formed by the ECAJoint Industry Board (JIB)National Electrotechnical Training (NET)SELECT and Unite the Union to support electrotechnical employers to develop and drive the industry’s skills agenda.D

Is The Electrical and Fire Industry Broken?

This blog post was originally published on June 24, 2018, I am re-publishing it to show everyone who follows my new blog on danstheengineer.co.uk and my career path.

Dangerous electrical system in a basement of a mixed retail/office block in Oxted, Surrey 2017

At the end of this month (June 2018), I will not only be exiting my business, but also the industry I have been working in since leaving school. I am leaving to travel the world full time with my wife and kids and have booked a one-way ticket out of the UK. You can see our announcement here.

Many are asking me what plans I have when I get back and what I will do for work when I return. I have also been offered many jobs in various roles.

The truth is, I don’t have plans to come back. I don’t know where I will be in 6 months’ time, in a years’ time, in 3 years’ time. That is sort of the point! We stop off in Iceland first in August and have booked one-way tickets. We will adapt and mindset will alter on our amazing journey and I will remain open minded.

I have very mixed emotions right now.

I have been in the trade for 15 years and I boast some fantastic achievements in my time here. The last 12 months have been the most memorable and my career has been at an all time high…. I was accepted into The IET: The Institution of Engineering and Technology as a Fellow, I helped set up the #E5 Group as a founding member, turnover and profits within my business are at an all time high, I setup my YouTube Channel – Dans the Engineer which has gone rather well, carried out some prestigious projects and I have many contact me online to ask for my advice, help and guidance (which I am happy to).

Many didn’t expect my decision to leave but I have my reasons. I will openly admit that I love and loath the electrical and fire industries. I am a geek at heart, love the technical and engineering aspects of my job, love meeting interesting people all over the UK, building relationships and completing fantastic projects. BUT, the industry requires improvement. The type of improvement I mean is increased safety and procedures to prevent people getting hurt, or worse still – deaths.

My content online, articles written, and YouTube videos were to raise awareness of issues we face, to improve standards and to help people. It is something I am very passionate about.

This is where it gets complicated for me. I spend god knows how many hours focused on work and my business, learning and researching within my field of work. But my new Venture is to enjoy time with my family, watch them grow, travel and take some time out for me. We are filming Our Venture Beyond on YouTube and Instagram so others can follow what we do.

I decided that when I exit I will stop my focus on the industry and to focus on my new lifestyle. It is something I have to do for my family and for me.

Since announcing my decision to leave, many people including industry influencers and leaders have got in contact either wishing me well, thanking me, and/or offering something for the future. Honestly, it is very overwhelming!


I love innovation. Any company who change the game by making a great product and making a difference is just brilliant – Linian Clips.

I do have a few final things to say though.

The electrical and fire industries are very similar in many respects in that each industry is very vast in what it covers but legislation is similar for both.

What I am about to say in generally speaking about both industries.

Anybody and I mean anybody can work on fire alarm systems…. Worrying right? In fact it is the same for electrics too. Legislation allows this which I will touch on in a minute.

A person or organisation who owns or is in charge of a property is also responsible for the electrical and fire safety. It is down to them to determine how they do this. There are many ways to achieve this but in my honest opinion, this is a slight conflict of interest due to money. There is little way of enforcement to be compliant.

Responsible people can have work carried out with the intention ‘to be compliant’ but it doesn’t mean they are compliant, and it is down to client / person ordering the work to ensure it is carried out correctly. The problem with this is that the client needs to either be able to assess the work carried out themselves or contract somebody who can on their behalf. There is a risk of relying on the contractor carrying out the work to ensure they have done it correctly because it is a conflict of interest in many cases. The way contractors make money is by pricing a job, there will be a margin on labour and materials so the quicker they complete a job, the more profit there is. They are hardly going to highlight to you any issues because it will cost them! There seems to be a horrible culture in the industry where many have reduced costs so much that it is very easy to be so tight on making a profit that there isn’t room for any errors. When there is, many cut corners to maintain profit at the risk of reducing safety! Don’t get me wrong…. there are some fantastic contractors out there who consciously think about their actions and strive for a great install regardless if it won’t make as much profit as they hoped.

The accepted level and quality of training needs improving. Training providers seem to be in battle with each other to provide the cheapest training possible to win over clients based on price more than anything else. It seems to be the accepted by society. We all like a bargain but the quality can vary so much and can make such a difference. Some trainers will be happy making a little margin which is fine, but there are too many courses available which do not offer a good outcome for the trainee. That is not ethical.

The level of knowledge and skill has been watered down. It is very easy to do a short course and get some tools and start working on life safety and electrical systems. System that can cause fires or prevent suitable means of detecting fire. It is an important job and there is far more to it other than it just ‘working’. Courses I have attended and feedback from others suggest that they passed the course via a very easy system such as multiple choice but walked away not really knowing everything they should do. It seems like the pass result percentage is what matters and measures the success of the training. A bit like the UK education system. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the student. Correct and suitable training is vital!! IF people knew what they are doing and the dangers caused by their actions, they would have more of a chance in installing systems to a better standard.

Attitudes towards management of systems can completely change how effective a system is. I could install a brilliant compliant system, but if it isn’t maintained adequately, it is only as good as the day it was installed.

That doesn’t stop someone dying, does it?

I came across a project recently where the client has a procedure where the contractor has to sign a permit to agree that they will make good any penetrations to fire compartments to ‘the best of their ability’ as part of their works. They sign the permit in the morning, do the work and bring back the permit at the end of the day. When I carried out a survey I noticed tons of cable and pipe penetrations in the fire compartments, it was like swiss cheese and informed the client that clearly previous contractors have not installed fire barriers. The client turned around to be and said, ‘I have this bit of paper that says they have installed fire seals to their work’. I was gobsmacked!!!!! That paper DOES NOT STOP SOMEBODY DYING IN A FIRE!!!!

Common sense seems to be a thing from the past. It almost seems like we are trained to be robots who cannot think for themselves outside their pre-programme. I say, step outside of the norm and think for yourself. Question everything!! Why do we use this cable. Why do we install smoke detectors there. As a parent it can be funny at first but then frustrating when your child keeps asking why…. but honestly, I encourage my kids to ask why. Then we explore the reason why together.

Who on earth designed that?

In 2017, BS5839 Part 1 was revised and one of the good changes in my opinion was that manual call points are to have covers. So there is a plastic cover that you lift before activating the call point. This is to reduce false alarms by people accidentally pressing them. It is a great idea and has reduced false alarms in the many properties that I manage. But I have seen so many covers installed but have old signage above them advising how to active the call point by pressing it failing to provide the vital information that you need to lift the cover first! It seems obvious to people who are in the know, but in an emergency, a layman may not know this and it reduces the chance of activating an all important system. An example of this was a very fancy building in London I was in recently had manual call points with covers and pointless signage above and all the smoke detection was literally right by an air conditioning ventilation system blowing air into the room. If there were a fire, the smoke would be blown away from the detectors so manual call points would be vital because I believe the smoke detection to be pretty ineffective in this premises.

Who on earth designed that? Design is so important but what is more important is that the design is to be verified by the designer once installed. I strongly believe in third party consultancy where the consultant designs a system based on the clients needs who signs design documentation, oversees the installation and commissioning and testing, then signs a verification of the system to effectively takes responsibility of the system. This is supposed to happen with fire alarm systems but often what happens is either the contractor is the designer and carries out verification or a third party does it but doesn’t sign the documentation at all and leaves it to the contractor as well. Going back to my previous statement, I believe this is a conflict of interest.

If a third party was involved from the outset, it would be in everybody’s interest to make sure everything is how it should be! The problem being is cost. It would cost much more contracting a consultant or third party but can a client who isn’t able to make the necessary judgements themselves afford NOT to have a third party? I mean, I know clients responsible for the electrical systems and fire safety who have never read or even heard of the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989 or the The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Guess what? Both are free. Click each link and you can download it. Every person involved in systems and management inside the scope of these documents should read them from an apprentice to a manager. They really are not complicated.

I walk around premises all the time and notice issues with fire and electrical safety. The problem is, you cannot un-see them. It could be a pub where a fire exit sign is pointing down instead of left. Or a hanging exit sign which is double sided effectively directing you back into the property. I believe that exit signage is confusing to the layman. Professionals keep saying it isn’t confusing at all. Well of course it isn’t confusing to someone who deals with it day in a day out but in the event of an emergency, the majority of people who need to understand signage, won’t. When I was in the US recently in Disney World, Orlando, in most of the areas, the signage is so clear I felt confident I would be able to find my way out. Every sign was electrically illuminated, directional, says clearly EXIT, and was supplemented by low level signs in places. It just made sense yet I was standing in a very large shopping centre in the South of England the other day and it has the smallest exit signs only located at the exit point which are not obvious unless you look for them because generally they are not at the main entrances and the colour clashes with the colours of all the fantastic shop front displays. It is confusing in normal circumstances. I hold little hope when the place is full of smoke!

Poor escape signage in a pub / restaurant I noticed whilst on a jolly up with the #e5 group in Coventry.

A few years ago a client has a fire in their property and it was reported that people struggled to see to get out due to smoke filling the place as the emergency lighting did not illuminate. Well it wouldn’t! It is run in FP200 fire rated cable and only activates when the mains fails. The mains didn’t fail because the cable withstood the fire! Nobody could turn on the functional light due to the panic of the emergency and didn’t want to locate the switches as they were near the fire.

And just to clarify to a few contractors…. exit signs are not necessarily emergency lights. Think about it.

Just because a contractor is part of a CPS (Competent Person Scheme) does not mean they are competent and/or carry out works to the relevant standards. It is up to the person ordering the work to carry out due diligence to assess if they are able to carry out the work and then review the work is acceptable. Cost SHOULD NOT be the main factor on choosing who does the work and just because they are part of a CPS is not good enough due diligence at all.

Remember, the British Standards are a GUIDE. However, unless you have sufficient knowledge and experience to deviate from the standards, you should stick to them as the minimum. There has been many situations where I have deviated as a designer but I have been happy to take that responsibility without reducing the risk of the level of safety of the system(s).

I believe we all have a duty to improve standards in the industry and can all make steps to assist this:

  • Individuals and companies to continue training externally and internally
  • Review management procedures
  • DO NOT put pressure on time to complete tasks but penalising individuals but also financial incentives to complete tasks in impossible times. There will be errors in this way
  • Stop boasting how cheaply jobs can be done. I am all up for saving money where possible, but under cutting others usually isn’t as transparent as it may seem. When cost goes down, often quality does too
  • Putting safety first…. always…. without compromise. Let’s go to bed every evening, knowing what we have done could save a life
  • Use this fantastic site as a forum to help each other, share experiences and ideas. There are some seriously clever guys and girls on Linkedin who can provide so much help. This is pretty much what #e5 is all about so being part of it is to help each other.
  • Remember that people are humans and not robots
  • We all need to earn a living, but let’s not allow offers to suffer as a result of greed

In the words of Paul Meenan, we should have assurance, not insurance when talking about electrical and life safety systems. Ask yourself, have you done everything you possibly can to ensure you have done your part including highlighting any shortfalls on the parts you may not necessarily be responsible for. If not, you may be breaking the law!

Grenfell was a national disaster but speaking to professionals within the industry, it is no surprise a tragedy like this occurred. The problem with fire and electrical safety is that it only tends to be apparent there is a problem when an accident or disaster occurs, not before hand. IF all fire measures were in place in Grenfell, it may have been a different story. One where many people wouldn’t have lost their homes and lives.

This is how I see ‘The Industry’

I am about to leave my company to set off on an amazing trip, but I believe that every one of my team who works for my company matters. Whether it be my head electrician, my fellow director, receptionist, clients, the guy who supplies my materials and even the cleaner! We all have a role and together, we are a team. The team cannot operate without the team players. This is how I see ‘The Industry’ . We are all involved and linked together. We have our roles and the goal should be to provide safe systems to protect each other and the public. If one team player doesn’t pull their weight, the goal will not be achieved.

I could keep going with this but I hope you get the idea of what I am talking about and can relate, maybe stop and think about a few things I have mentioned.

I would post lots of fancy pictures for this article but my van got broken into and my photos were on a hard drive that also got stolen. Those photos probably will mean nothing to the thieves but little do they know, that they are evidence that could potentially save their lives one day!

Now you’ll have to excuse me because I am currently doing some research on mountain hikes 😉 Must go!

Tradesman van broken into parked in the car park at the Excel in London

#e5

Written by Dan Jackson AKA Dans the Engineer in Kent, England

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