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.


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 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

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