Is social media the new way to plug the gender skills gap? 

On International Women in Engineering day (23 June 2021), ECA asks, does social media break down the gender divide for female apprentices? In the case of Tianna, an apprentice from Birmingham, her social media network has been a lifeline during lockdown.

“Without a doubt, ours is the fastest changing industry there is”, says Eddie Clemmens of Pegasus Electrical, who has been a practising electrician for 35 years. Pegasus is based just off Junction 2 of the M5 in the West Midlands.

During the pandemic, Eddie was active on Twitter and later Instagram, posting photos of his electrical systems. He gained a large following of apprentices interested in his images. Many were on furlough, and while able to continue their studies, their opportunities for hands on experience were limited. The photos of circuits were a great way to learn things they were not seeing in real time.

Like many in the industry, he is concerned the sector, which already has a skills shortage, will lose a generation of new talent unable to pass practical exams because they’ve not been in a work environment. He believes the trade must find new ways to plug the skills gap, saying, “It will be a long haul to regain the quality of practical skills lost this year, unless we support each other now”.

One of his Instagram followers is a woman called Tianna, known as Tee. She is in the fourth year of her apprenticeship. Tee saw Eddie’s photo of conduit bender instructions and messaged him directly. She was desperate to get the hands-on experience of conduit bending to complete her practical exam, AM2. Eddie had a brainwave – he decided to speak with one of his wholesalers, Edmundson Electrical in Wolverhampton, who was happy to help. The company supplied Eddie with a conduit bender, complete with conduit and boxes at cost price. This was delivered to Tee, free of charge, and #AM2LoanRangers was born.

Tee was pleased to be a guinea pig for the new idea. She tested the kit for a couple of weeks, but it was soon in demand by other apprentices. It was clear the board must be portable and include a range of bending skills needed for both the AM2 and the real world.

Demand for the practice board has been largely driven by social media. There is a waiting list for the upgraded practice board and kit, which goes on loan for two or three weeks. But Tee will get the equipment back before her AM2, to ensure she gains the skills to pass the test.

Tee said it has been great working with Eddie, and if it hadn’t been for him, she wouldn’t have got through the last year.

“He’s made me practice, practice, practice.  As a woman in a mostly male industry, I need to be on top of my game and have experience of all types of wiring I might be faced with. When I started out, someone told me I’d never make it, but I’m determined to prove them wrong”.

Eddie has made Tee see there is a vast array of electrical opportunities ahead of her.  When Tee finishes her apprenticeship, she plans to work in the growing field of installing electric vehicle charging points.

As a lifelong learner himself, Eddie knows the importance of keeping up to date with his trade. He is a member of ECA, the Electrical Contractors’ Association, who he says has has opened his eyes to the rapid shift that is taking place, as technology changes the way electricians work.

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