The UK’s trades, including the electrical industry, are feeling the effects of a lack of vital skills, with more and more young people opting to progress straight from compulsory education to university, says Jarkko Aro, sales and operative director, I.C. Electrical, part of VEO Group.
Close collaboration between employers, training institutions and schools is essential in order to bridge this skills gap and future proof the sector.
As emphasised in a recent report by PwC, a ‘lack of skills’ is a worry for leaders across all areas of the business world, ranking within the top 10 threats perceived by CEOs globally. However, for the UK’s trade industries, such as electrical engineering, a limited pipeline of apprentices is a particular cause for concern.
When it comes to attracting the next generation of talent to the industry, young people’s perceptions of apprenticeships are key. There is no denying that university education has an important role to play in shaping the UK’s future workforce. However, many school leavers are simply not given the opportunity to consider the advantages to be gained from learning a trade or skill, or are simply put off by the prospect of embarking on a four-year apprenticeship. Taking action to address this could help to open up many more young people to a secure and rewarding career.
The solution to this long-debated problem begins in schools. Institutions have a responsibility to work in conjunction with teaching bodies and local businesses to discuss the widest possible range of career options, including those requiring an apprenticeship. While perceptions of apprenticeships are quickly changing, there is still a common misconception that they do not lead to exciting and fulfilling jobs.
The UK is a global leader in innovation, and British engineering talent often contributes to some of the world’s most impressive mega projects. With former Chancellor Sajid Javid recently committing to deliver an ‘infrastructure revolution’, young engineers are now more important to the economy than ever before, with projects such as HS2 presenting opportunities to work on a number of major new initiatives.
It goes without saying that for the majority of young people, money and career progression are key considerations when deciding on a career path. While there is still a prevailing view that apprenticeships offer a disadvantage in this sense, this could not be further from the truth. The arrival of the Apprenticeship Levy and a shift in attitudes amongst employers means not only that businesses can afford to pay employees comfortable wages, the majority also provide on-the-job training and support apprentices through college as well. It is essential that more is done to promote apprenticeships as a gateway to what can often be lucrative careers.
However, in order to ensure that school leavers emerge from apprenticeships with a strong level of practical experience under their belts, some of the stringent restrictions placed on engineering firms need to be reviewed. For example, most building sites in the UK are unable to allow anyone under 18 onto their premises. In practice, this means that young people starting their apprenticeship at 16 cannot benefit from many key practical areas of training.
While there is no denying that a focus on health and safety is essential, this needs to be balanced with a common-sense approach. Allowing junior team members onto building sites in certain cases, so that they can gain hands-on experience in the trade, would mean that they are far better prepared when they begin their first full-time electrical roles.
The UK’s skills gap is a complex and multifaceted issue, which will not be solved overnight. However, through improved cooperation between businesses, training institutions and teachers, the UK can introduce school leavers to a long and rewarding future careers in electrical engineering.