Rising to the challenges of tomorrow

Training the next generation of skilled electricians properly is now more vital than ever if we are to have a truly electric-based economy

Over the past five months, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read that we are living in “unprecedented times”. But it’s the stark truth. As we begin to emerge from this devastating pandemic, helping the construction industry to recover and preparing the next generation of electricians has never been more important.

Part of the recovery process will involve equipping this next generation with the relevant skills they need to rebuild Scotland, with a pathway from school to college and full-time employment more vital than ever. Without apprentices coming through the ranks and being comprehensively trained, there will be no electrical industry in the future, with all the implications that would have for our wider society as Scotland becomes an electric-based economy.

Therefore, we need professionally-minded people dedicated to the highest possible standards in the electrotechnical sector who will, in turn, help to bring on the skill base of the future.

As I write, employers are facing huge uncertainty, with apprenticeships perhaps not being the priority they were before lockdown. But once they are ready to take on trainees again, those with a head start in electrical knowledge will make extremely attractive candidates

The benefits of pre-apprenticeships

A pre-apprenticeship programme is one invaluable way for would-be electricians to get a flavour of the industry, preparing them for the time when employers will contemplate taking on apprentices and adult trainees again. Delivered at colleges across Scotland, these programmes offer basic training in hand skills, health and safety and an understanding of the college system. Pre-apprentices are also provided with personal protective clothing and, once they have completed the health and safety requirements, are awarded an SJIB ECS health and safety card to allow them on site.

The advantages of the programme are three-fold, with pre-apprentices gaining an invaluable insight into the role of an electrician, helping them to make an informed career choice. Employers gain a ‘job ready’ candidate who has shown a good attitude and understanding of what’s required. And when the pre-apprentices return for a Modern Apprenticeship, colleges gain students who are motivated and understand the college system.

Pre-apprenticeships are extremely flexible and are designed to suit the needs of today’s candidates, helping them develop a greater understanding of the electrical industry and making them attractive to potential employers.

Employers are now actively asking for people who’ve taken part as it helps them identify people who are obviously ready to take the next step on their electrical career path.

A challenging time ahead

Of course, apprenticeships themselves will not be without their own challenges in the months and years ahead.

The return to college has already been a challenging one, with class numbers reduced and workshop times being at a premium.

But it’s vital that we all play our part and give the next generation of electricians access to a world of exciting technology that we’re only just starting to see dawning.

Renewables, electric vehicles, smart homes and the Internet of Things will revolutionise the way we live, so it’s vital we have a working population that understands them.

Training and workplace apprenticeships are a vital part of ensuring we produce this excellence in skills, both in Scotland and beyond – but, as ever, attracting suitable candidates remains a challenge.

Being an electrician is a fantastic career, with ever-expanding opportunities, but we need to educate the electricians of tomorrow that it’s more than the cliched image of a man in a boiler suit fitting a socket.

Instead, we should be inspiring and exciting the next generation with the possibilities that await them as part of a thriving global industry. As part of this recruitment drive, we should also be doing more to improve inclusion, diversity and quality.

Our sector has traditionally been seen as white and male-centric, so it’s important that we’re more open to the concept of thinking differently when it comes to recruitment. After all, if our working population really is shrinking, there should be no barriers to anyone wanting to pick up the tools.

At the same time, it’s also about educating those self-same groups we’re trying to attract and saying: “You can be an electrician – we’re a welcoming industry and you will be supported, no matter your gender, race, sexual orientation or beliefs.” There are encouraging signs already, but if we’re to secure a positive future, we can all do more to attract the brightest young minds from right across the board.

New and unexpected challenges lie around the corner for all of us. But if we equip the electricians of tomorrow with the right tools now, we can successfully tackle those challenges head-on and rebuild a strong and productive post-pandemic industry.

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