Meet our new President
New SELECT President Donald W Orr reveals what he’s most looking forward to after being elected at our recent AGM and reflects on the lessons he’s learned from a 40-year career in the industry
Hi Donald. When did you start your career as an electrician?
I started in 1980, after quite an unusual four-year apprenticeship. It began with Stuart H Shaw in Lanark in 1976, however, the company was taken over 18 months later and didn’t need as many employees so I was paid off. The following week, I started with George McGills, a few doors up the street, and was there for another 18 months until I was paid off again through a lack of work. However, I then started with T&R Galloway and we agreed they’d help me see my apprenticeship completed.
Redundancy is obviously something that some apprentices will be facing at the moment because of COVID-19. But a setback like that can be overcome – you can move on and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
And what’s your role now?
I’m Managing Director of Unitech Services Ltd in Carluke, Lanarkshire.
I started off as a sole trader in 1986 and changed to a limited company in 2005. We specialise in electrical, fire and security work.
How did you become involved with SELECT?
I was invited to the first meeting after I’d joined to receive my membership certificate and I realised it wasn’t as intimidating as I’d thought it would be. It was actually enjoyable listening to other members chatting informally as well as about major issues relating to the whole industry, not just my section of it. You realise that you’re really not alone out there and we all have the same issues.
What roles have you carried out over the years for the association?
I was part of the Marketing Committee when the name changed from the Electrical Contractors’ Association of Scotland to SELECT. I’ve also represented the association on the Fire and Security Association Standing Committee since 2017. It seemed like a natural progression when I first became Lanarkshire Branch Vice Chairman and then I was asked to become Chairman in 1994. I was also the Depute Vice President for two years, and that gave me a flavour of the role. I enjoyed it so much that I did it all over again, taking over the Lanarkshire Branch Chair some five years ago. Then I became Vice-President in 2019 and here we are now, President of SELECT in 2020.
How have you seen the association change?
When I joined on 15 October, 1989 (I did have to look that up!) it seemed very daunting. But that perception changed as soon as you were through the door and everybody was friendly. I think it was just the image you had as a young sparky entering the big world of business, rather than the reality. No matter what size of company you had, we all had the same issues and decisions to make.
Today, it’s great to see that the association is a member-focused, professional, forward-thinking organisation with more national involvement than ever before. It’s something that’s been highlighted recently with COVID-19. The association has been leading the way and helping others as they always have done.
How has the industry changed since you started out?
It’s changed greatly. We’re now an electrotechnical industry and have so much more involvement in other disciplines, rather than just electrical. This has allowed electricians to take other career paths. I still believe that electrical and FESS apprenticeships are the best route for any young person to take through SECTT and the association and they can then grow and evolve into other disciplines.
Any funny stories during your career?
As a second-year apprentice I was sent out to fit a new doorbell for an elderly lady in the Clyde Valley. It was my first day out with another younger apprentice in tow. When the doorbell was fitted, I explained that we were going to set it off to make sure she was happy with it.
Just as the other apprentice pressed it, the lady’s phone rang right beside her. Straight away, she said: “That’s no good, it’s the same ring as my phone, you’ll need to get another one.”
I tried to tell her that it was her phone ringing but she wasn’t having any of it and kept saying she wanted a new doorbell. I could hear the other apprentice rolling about laughing and had to try really hard not to laugh myself.
When I finally got the apprentice to stop laughing, I said to the customer, “Shall we try this other tone?” and pressed the bell. Lo and behold, it sounded nothing like her phone and she was happy! That was my first customer service experience and how I managed to keep a straight face, I’ll never know.
If only I had patented that idea and name – ‘Ring’ would’ve done nicely!
How important is regulation of the industry?
Very – only those who are appropriately qualified and experienced should be allowed to call themselves an electrician. Sub-standard electrical work has caused so many accidents over the years and we MUST ensure it is stamped out.
Regulation will help, and although it won’t solve things overnight, it will be a significant step forward. These days, the consumer has so many options when it comes to choosing an electrician and, as professionals, we should ensure they are able to make the right choice and employ someone they know is qualified to carry out any works properly.
Regulation of the industry ensures we can offer consumers the safest option that will protect their homes, families and businesses. SELECT has been at the forefront of this campaign and it is heartening to see it make significant progress. It shows the difference we can make.
And what do you think the impact of COVID-19 will be? Have you seen much impact yourself?
Some have flourished during this time, but unfortunately, some have suffered greatly. Personally, I think it won’t be until well into next year that we get back on a level footing.
As an association, we are here for all our Members and are in the best position to assist. But the updates we publish on our website are open to everyone, not just our Members. The information is there for everyone to see.
My own business has suffered during this period, as have many, but then so have my customers and my customers’ customers. They are the ones that matter for getting my business back to normal. Helping them to come back, keeping them on the right footing and allowing them to flourish can only benefit us all in the future. We are all in this together.
What are you most looking forward to as President?
More interaction with the Members, the branches and other associations.
We have a great team here and have surpassed what others have done over the last six months. Being part of this process and joining them at this level is truly an honour.
With the bigger picture in mind, I’m looking forward to being able to work with other associations and government as we help everyone get back to an even footing and then going forward, instead of just getting back to where we were before COVID-19. We can all work together and that’s what we’ll do – that’s what the Members of our association deserve.
What would you say to anyone thinking of getting more involved with their branch?
Go for it! It doesn’t take much time to go to a meeting and now they’re being held via webinar, it’s even easier than ever – you can join in from your sofa. You’ll benefit greatly and will realise that you’re not alone, whether you’re a sole trader, managing director, the qualifying manager or any other part of a company. Talking does help, and listening even more so. We are all like-minded people and all want the best for our companies.
Give your branch a chance – turn up and join in. You’ll realise that you have a voice, you have something to contribute and you can grow as an individual and a company.