Talent of tomorrow
The pandemic has left many businesses forced to make job cuts, with apprentices often finding themselves out of work. We spoke to two SELECT Member firms who are helping young people continue their careers after redundancy
When the coronavirus pandemic struck back in late March, people were naturally worried about their health, but, for many, there were also concerns for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, in the electrical sector it was often young apprentices that were made redundant as employers looked to cut costs. However, their loss was a gain for some far-sighted employers who have taken their pick of the young talent available and helped to put these young people’s careers back on track to becoming qualified electricians.
One of those was companies was Edinburgh based AKD, which has taken on two former redundant apprentices in recent months: Russell Cairns, who is about to start his third year, and Ciaran Corkish, who is about to go into his second year. AKD, which also has offices in Glasgow and Cheshire, provides commercial and residential electrical services and takes on at least two apprentices each year. It now has 20 young people in various years training to become qualified electricians in each of its offices.
Managing Director Keith Groom is sympathetic to the plight of apprentices who have been made redundant. He said: “It’s really bad luck that these two lads have lost their jobs through no fault of their own but, fortunately, because of the continued growth in our business, we’re happy to adopt and assist them to get through their apprenticeships with us, hopefully gaining a further two fantastic electricians.
“An apprenticeship is a formative part of your life and I personally enjoy seeing our apprentices develop as they come through the business. We hopefully get to know their family and friends and we support all of them through their own trials and tribulations, as we pride ourselves on our close relationships at work – we call it the AKD family. So, everyone that comes into the business is treated like a family member and now Russell and Ciaran are part of that.”
While Ciaran was introduced to Keith by Fraser Binnie, a Training Officer at the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT), Russell used LinkedIn to put the word out about job opportunities.
Keith said: “Some electricians set up a LinkedIn account to help people who had lost their jobs get in touch with potential employers. One organiser tagged me into Russell’s details. I got in touch, we had a FaceTime interview and he impressed me.
“I can’t comment on Ciaran yet as he has only just started, but Russell is definitely switched on. I’ve seen him out on-site and he handles himself very well. I’ve already had positive feedback from his colleagues on a project at an insurance building in Edinburgh.
“In fact, he’s working with Josh, who originally approached us from another company because he felt he was not getting the on-site training he required. He joined us five years ago and he’s now a qualified electrician and running his own sites. That’s what we like to do; develop our own people by bringing them through the ranks.” Another company that has taken on a redundant apprentice is SELECT Member firm MR Electrical, based in Edinburgh, with four employees providing domestic electrical services with some commercial work.
Like a lot of owners of small companies, Michael Riley had always considered taking on an apprentice, but until now he never had the time. However, when he heard about Luke Dunn from SECTT Training Officer Fraser Binnie, he decided to help out.
Michael said: “I thought it was a bit unfair how Luke had lost his job and I could appreciate how devastating it would have been if I had been in his shoes. I was an apprentice once so I felt it was important to give him a chance.”
Michael knew Luke’s father from when they were both young, and had carried out electrical work at his home – he had even offered Luke a week’s work experience when he was at school.
He said: “I could tell at the interview that he was pretty keen and had a willingness to learn, and his experience of both domestic and commercial work is a great benefit to us. He has the right attitude and I know that he wants to become a good electrician.”
It’s a decision he’s not regretted as Luke was able to hit the ground running when he started in August, and is now preparing to enter the third year of his apprenticeship at Edinburgh College.
Commenting on the support that AKD and MR Electrical and others in the trade have given apprentices made redundant as a result of the economic turndown, Anne Galbraith, Chief Executive of SECTT, said: “I am delighted that employers have stepped forward to offer these apprentices the opportunity to complete their apprenticeship.
“SECTT supports redundant apprentices by funding their college training to allow them to complete the stage that they are in. We will also pay for travel to college as an additional support. For third-stage apprentices who are eligible to sit FICA, we ensure that they are able to sit this with no cost to themselves. We believe that they should be given all opportunities to become an electrician.
During these difficult and challenging times, I would like to thank all employers who continue to support SECTT and the SJIB apprenticeship programmes.”
When Russell left school, his first job was as a field engineer for a telecoms and data company. He enjoyed the work but felt there was not enough training provided for a career progression, so he decided that an apprenticeship would be the best option.
He explained: “Electrical work had always intrigued and interested me, and as I was working in cabling I thought training to be an electrician would be a good step forward.”
Russell was successful in obtaining an apprenticeship with a small electrical firm but the company had financial problems and he was let go.
He was delighted when SECTT Training Officer Fraser Binnie put him forward for an apprenticeship with a business specialising in the new build domestic market and he got the job. But within 18 months, the pandemic had hit and the firm had to make nearly half of its 32 workers redundant.
Did this make Russell despondent? No, within two weeks he had a new job with AKD in Edinburgh. He said: “When I got made redundant for the second time I realised that I had to be proactive, so I joined a LinkedIn group for redundant apprentices and explained my experience and situation. I was also contacting other companies through social media and AKD replied to one of my posts.
“I was speaking on the phone with Managing Director Keith Groom within a few days of him contacting me and then I had an interview which was successful – so it all happened pretty fast. I was impressed with Keith and the company; he seemed to be a very switched-on guy and since working there I have been very impressed with the professionalism of everyone – it’s like a well-oiled machine.
“It’s great to be working on new things and learning more tricks of the trade, like the work I’m doing on emergency lighting systems at the moment. And it’s good that the tradesperson I’m working with also gives me the independence to get on with projects after he has explained what’s needed to be done.”
Russell has finished his second year and now is looking forward to continuing his training at Edinburgh College to enter his third year of the apprenticeship.
Russell added: “Losing your job is just one of those things you’ve got to get over. In the grand scheme of things there will always be jobs for skilled tradespeople, so you’ve got to have a positive mindset and be proactive in looking for new opportunities.”
As fate would have it, a week’s work experience with MR Electrical was what interested Luke Dunn in a career as an electrician. And a few years later, he’s now working at the company and entering his third-year apprenticeship, after being made redundant in August.
After leaving school, Luke accepted an apprenticeship with a company providing electrical services to the commercial sector but he soon felt that he was not getting a fully grounded experience working as an electrician.
He explained: “I was not getting much variety; I was just building frame trays and doing wiring. I felt that I’d get a much more hands-on role and wider experience in domestic work and this would be a better place to learn the fundamentals of being an electrician.”
Luke moved to a new company providing domestic electrical services but when the coronavirus pandemic occurred, he found himself out of work.
He said: “Obviously it was a shock, but I’ve moved companies before so perhaps that helped to soften the blow a bit. To be honest, I was fine about it really as I decided to keep my head down and look for work… and I got a job the next day with Michael Riley!
“Michael has handed me a great opportunity and said he will teach me everything I need to know, which is exactly what an apprentice wants to hear.
“I’m now often working alongside Michael on jobs and learning all the fundamentals of being an electrician; my general understanding about what is going on has grown, particularly how to make jobs easier for myself, and my communications skills about how I talk about the job has improved.”
Looking forward, it’s not surprising to learn that Luke would also like to start his own business someday, but after he qualifies he’d also like to take the opportunity to travel for a few years and see where his new profession takes him.