The current National Occupational Standards (NOS) are at the heart of modern apprenticeships, but like anything, they also need to change to keep pace with an evolving industry. So what does the future hold for this vital foundation for the electricians of tomorrow?
The Scottish Government has training at the heart of its skill strategy through the completion of vocational apprenticeships, with a current target of 25,000 young people and adults to start each year in Scotland.
Since 1974, apprenticeship training for electricians has involved attending college and completing vocational qualifications, with the route to becoming a Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB) gold-card qualified electrician having a successful apprenticeship at its core.
At SELECT, we want every apprenticeship to provide a solid foundation in electrical theory and practice, with its completion and qualifications to have real value and meaning for employers.
The confidence that the industry currently has in apprenticeships comes from knowing that they’re based on a standard – even though most people won’t know how such a standard was created or how it’s supported.
However, a successful standard ensures a continued trust in apprenticeships, which in turn is vital for mobility of labour – and to ensure that an electrician has the skills to develop in a range of specialist areas.
A backbone for training
Apprenticeships change over time to keep pace with regulations, technology and best practice, with qualifications continually evolving too. So for example, in 1974, apprentices completed City & Guilds Parts A and B, whereas today they complete a Modern Apprenticeship at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level 7.
But whatever the qualification, National Occupational Standards (NOS) are the backbone from which apprenticeship frameworks are created. These NOS are important as they directly influence the design of the electrical installation apprenticeship qualification and directly impact on the skills and knowledge demonstrated by a newly-qualified electrician.
A standard for everyone
The last major review to the electrical NOS happened in 2013, and was managed on behalf of the industry by SummitSkills, a Standard Setting Organisation (SSO). In Scotland, SELECT, the SJIB and the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) both provided expertise and resources to support the process.
As part of this process, feedback was gathered from surveys sent out to hundreds of electrical companies. Employer forums were also held throughout the UK, with representatives from SELECT Member companies taking in working groups to review the NOS in Scotland.
The support from the industry was excellent throughout, but the aim was not to create a standard that worked only for the companies who took part in the working groups and employer forums. Instead, it was about creating a standard that worked for companies of all sizes in all locations – and for the electricians of the future.
The resulting standard was then used as the building block for qualifications, with the NOS feeding into the revision of the Standard Vocational Qualification (SVQ) in electrical installation in Scotland. It also informed alternative apprenticeship training frameworks throughout the rest of the UK and remains an integral part of all vocational qualifications in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A changing landscape
The apprenticeship landscape in England has changed beyond recognition in recent years as it moves to an approach that places employer demands at the heart of vocational qualification design. The Government has encouraged employer input into apprenticeship design through the development of Trailblazer Apprenticeships, which can place the views of a small group of employers at the heart of the design.
When creating apprenticeships, employers can currently choose to work with existing NOS for their industry or choose to go in different directions not based on the NOS.
Within the revised Trailblazer Apprenticeship, the NOS remained central to the design as employers within the industry recognised its importance. This was a positive outcome that helped to ensure continued parity across the nations and protects the integrity of the electrical apprenticeship.
Without a base that meets the needs of all the industry, there is a danger that the design instead meets the needs of a few – and more often than not this leads to deskilling and a loss of faith in a qualification.
The change in landscape in England, along with many major policy shifts throughout the UK, has led to SSOs and Sector Skills Councils (SSC) becoming less important in terms of the London-based UK Government agenda. This shift in priority also brought removal of funding and led to the closure of many SSCs and SSOs, including SummitSkills, which shut its doors in March this year.
A commitment to support
The NOS that supports our qualifications is still valid and relevant. However, the environment we operate in changes constantly, with a new edition of the IET Wiring Regulations on the horizon. Therefore, NOS will need to be reviewed and updated in the next couple of years to ensure they continue to serve the industry.
SummitSkills did an excellent job of involving and listening to the industry when updating NOS in 2013, but it’s not clear yet who will be given responsibility for maintaining the NOS that underpins our apprenticeship.
However, SELECT is actively working to ensure that whatever the future holds, employers’ needs are listened to and that we continue to have faith in every apprenticeship – and the skills an electrician will have developed by the end of it.
Elaine Ellis, Qualifications and Skills Development Manager, SELECT