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KEY ISSUE

There is no shortage of young apprentices wanting to enter the industry and build a career, says Andrew Eldred

THE APPRENTICES – YOU’RE HIRED Andrew Eldred, ECA director of employment and skills, reveals that there may be more benefits to hiring apprentices than you think.

T

Andrew Eldred

o bridge the skills gap, the electrotechnical industry must attack the root causes. The UK electrotechnical sector continues to be a leader in the world of apprenticeships. For one, the Electrotechnical Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standard was one of the first to be approved in a recent report by think-tank Reform, and it was identified as having the highest uptake of the Trailblazers so far. Another, the Fire Emergency Systems and Security Standard, is leading the charge in helping to raise training and occupational standards among specialists. Other standards, such as the new Network Cable Installer Trailblazer, are currently in development. However, we are training far fewer electricians than we used to. Today, most electrotechnical engineering services firms do not typically train any apprentices at all, and those who do are training fewer

than before. For example, in 2018, JTL has engaged with 2,700 electrical employers to deliver 5,800 apprenticeships. Ten years ago, up to 8,000 were delivered. Despite appearances, there is no shortage of young apprentices wanting to enter the industry and build a career. In recent years, on average, just over half of all applicants who passed JTL pre-assessment have been able to secure apprenticeships. There is clearly a largely unmet demand from capable young people, who are then presumably tempted to take on full-time college courses with little-to-no link to work-based experience. Some might be giving up on their ambition altogether. To bridge this gap, the industry needs to tackle the root causes. Clients and main contractors should be actively encouraged to write minimum training requirements into their contracts. The Apprenticeship standard and NVQ level 3 should be reinforced as a benchmark for competence as an electrician. Close work with awarding organisations, Government and the further education sector should serve to eradicate

“Most electrotechnical engineering services firms do not typically train any apprentices at all, and those who do are training fewer than before”

confusion and false expectations generated by the mis-selling of technical certificates and short courses. As an alternative, we should be offering routes for part-qualified electricians to ‘upgrade’ their qualifications through APEL. Conversely, individual firms need to rediscover the business case for hiring apprentices. A recent Education Policy Institute research report has shown net savings of between £5,000 and £18,000 for each apprentice employed, compared to relying on unskilled or semi-skilled operatives instead. This brings an undeniable competitive advantage. As noted in the report, “The high productivity and low costs [of electrical apprentices] are used by firms to gain customer contracts because they can offer their services at lower costs than competitors that do not employ and train apprentices.” By recruiting and training apprentices, firms are doing the right thing for their business as well as for young people, industry and wider society. ECA, eca.co.uk

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