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Mike Stark brings the voice of experience as new SELECT President

SELECT’s new President has enjoyed 44 years in the electrical industry and knows that change is constant. With the rise of AI, he says there are major changes ahead that we must embrace and use to our advantage



In June 2024, Mike Stark not only celebrates a 44-year career in the electrical industry – 40 of those years with the same business – but is also taking up the Presidency of SELECT.


During that time, he has gone from a 16-year-old electrical apprentice with an Edinburgh-based firm in 1978 to joining Arthur McKay in 1984, where he has enjoyed many career opportunities as the family-run company expanded from Scotland into northern England. Following a recent corporate merger, Mike is now Director of Data Cabling & Networks at the international facilities management firm OCS M&E Services.


 If there is one thing that has been consistent in his career, which has seen him take on numerous roles from supervisor, small works manager, project manager, operations manager, regional manager and operations director, it is change – and with the growth of renewables, vehicle charging, artificial intelligence (AI) and mega data centres, he’s prepared for even more change ahead.


 One thing that has not changed over this time has been the continuing demand for new apprentices to become trained professionals – the new blood to take on the challenges of the future within the electrical industry – and also the urgent need for protection of title for the profession of electrician.


 It’s these three themes – the challenges of renewables and AI, apprentices and protection of title – that Mike wants to impress upon the industry and its stakeholders as he becomes SELECT President for the next two years.


“We need people who can apply themselves correctly, show that they are willing to learn and always ask questions”

 One of the big developments in recent years has been the increase of AI in our everyday lives, from digital assistants and chatbots helping us on websites to navigation apps and autocorrect on our mobile phones. AI is going to become more prevalent in the near future, and while Mike is not worried about ‘Skynet’ and Arnold Schwarzenegger-lookalike androids taking over the world, he is concerned about whether the UK’s current electrical infrastructure is fit for purpose and can deal with the exponential increase in predicted power demands from the continued growth in electric vehicle (EV) charging units and the power-hungry data centres supporting the rollout of AI.


 Mike said: “I remember attending a training session about 25 years ago with one of the EV charging point manufacturers and, while it was an exciting development, the standing joke with the candidates in attendance was basically where was all this electricity going to come from? We all felt the UK’s electrical network needed to be upgraded if it was going to be able to meet the future requirements of EV charging, and now there is extra pressure on our network coming from the new data centres that are springing up to service the needs of AI.


 “Data centres, which have many servers as their main components, need electrical power to survive. It is, therefore, only natural that any talk about building a data centre should begin with figuring out the electrical needs and how to satisfy those power requirements. Some key factors to be considered when reviewing the power requirements are the capacity, auxiliary power, reliability and tiers, usage, power distribution and redundancy – all key elements around the electrical design of a data centre.


“But within data centres there are not just the electricity requirements for the servers but also the requirements for cooling, again with the added provision of redundancy.”


Mike said that researchers have already been sounding the alarm about AI’s hefty energy requirements. They estimate that by 2027 there could be 1.5 million AI servers, and running at full capacity these servers would consume at least 85.4 terawatt-hours of electricity annually – more than what many small countries use in a year – so they will have a major impact on the grid, not just in cities but in countries too. The scenario is that by 2027, AI servers could consume between 85 and 134 terawatt hours per year, roughly equivalent to the current energy demand of countries such as Argentina, Netherlands and Sweden.   


 Mike added: “At present, the UK’s National Grid appears to be holding its own with the current increases being met with renewable energy systems but as technology advances further and systems such as AI are being introduced, there will be a time when the grid will struggle to support the demands and needs. 


“Because of all the new wind farms that are being developed around the shores of the UK, the grid is now having to review the use of and add in additional overhead pylons and their associated lines just to get the energy created by the wind farms back into the grid.”   


 While Mike is keeping on top of developments from the National Grid, his main concern for the next two years will be encouraging fellow Members to keep up the great work of introducing the next generation of electricians to the industry through apprenticeship schemes. Mike’s company takes on around 15 electrical apprentices a year and he became more involved in the apprentice programme when SELECT Managing Director Alan Wilson approached him to become involved in some of SELECT’s training skills and development programmes in 2016.


Mike said that it’s important that companies take on the right type of person who will be able to cope with the demands of a four-year apprenticeship programme, particularly the college work with homework and deadlines, which might come as a shock to a young person who thought they had said just goodbye to school.


He said: “We need people who can apply themselves correctly, show that they are willing to learn and always ask questions. 


“It’s a big learning curve, as we know, but their rewards are there for the taking; we’ve had young people that are now chargehand electricians in just three years of qualifying.”


During his two years in the Presidential hotseat, Mike is looking forward to meeting with SELECT Members and stakeholders to learn about issues within the electrical industry and advance the great works carried out to date on the existing apprenticeship scheme both within SECTT and OCS, and maintaining and sustain the end goal of having the role of an electrician recognised as a profession.   


He added: “Doormen who manage the front of house in clubs – ‘bouncers’ – have to be regulated by the Security Industry Authority before they can work but anyone can call themselves an electrician without any training or a full electrical apprenticeship. 


“That’s why we must continue with the great job that Alan Wilson and the team have done for SELECT’s long-running campaign for the regulation of the electrical industry and to have ‘electrician’ recognised as a profession.” 


An extended version of this interview can be read at www.cabletalkmagazine.com

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