The head of Scotland’s largest trade body has warned against the rising trend of ‘six-week wonders’ who are trying to enter the electrical industry after taking just a short course in basic skills.
In a hard-hitting interview, SELECT Managing Director, Alan Wilson, dismissed the spread of fast-track courses and said people with inadequate training and experience pose a safety risk to both the electrical sector and consumers.
He also insisted there was no substitute for a proper apprenticeship – and warned that people with ‘pound signs in their eyes’ faced being taken advantage of by rogue trainers offering worthless short courses.
Alan says, “We all know how safety-critical the construction industry is, and the last thing I want is for anyone to spend money on a pie-in-the-sky idea that after six weeks of training they can trot out and start rewiring homes or installing solar PV and battery storage. It just doesn’t happen.
“You can’t become a doctor or a nurse in six weeks – experience and training are vital. Even after a four-year apprenticeship and a final assessment, most employers say electricians need two to three years’ experience on top of that. To imagine you can do in six weeks what real electricians are doing in six or seven years just doesn’t add up.
“We all know how dangerous electricity can be if things aren’t done properly, so proper training is key. The last thing anyone wants to do is put themselves, or any customer they carry out work for, at risk.”
Alan, who has helped spearhead the long-running campaign for the professional recognition of electricians, spoke out in conversation with Thomas Nagy and Bradley Jones on The Electrical Show on Fix Radio, the national station aimed at the building sector.
He said that the industry already has faster routes to entry for people with transferrable skills but said that, in general, adult apprenticeship schemes were still the best option for securing a recognised qualification for older people wanting a change in career.
Alan says, “It is a contentious topic and a response to it depends on who is doing the course. Through the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB), we operate a crediting electrical competence (CEC) scheme which considers an individual’s experience and qualifications, and sometimes they’re only required to do updates on existing knowledge as appropriate.
“But if someone doesn’t have the qualifications to start with it becomes a much bigger issue. If someone is serving or cooking meals in a restaurant one week and then decides to do a six-week course to become an electrician the next, that’s just a pipe dream that will end badly for them and anyone they end up working for.
“There are opportunities for people who, for instance, have had services training or have a technical background but no formal qualifications and who could do shorter courses to become qualified.
“But we must be very, very careful about people who just want to pick up a tool bag because they can see the pound signs in their eyes. Six-week wonders are not what the industry or the public wants.”
He adds, “The electrical industry isn’t a closed shop, but people must get into it in the right way. So yes, you might have to do an adult apprenticeship for two or three years, but that’s going to give you a career for 10, 20 or even 30 years thereafter.”
Alan pointed to the Rogue Trainers campaign launched by The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP), which highlights the issue of those who make outlandish claims to persuade people to spend money on worthless courses.
He comments, “The section on TESP’s website is brilliant and is designed to help people avoid being ‘suckered in’ and spending their money on courses which will get them nowhere.
“People who have been made redundant are often looking to retrain in a new occupation, and TESP gives great tips on the sales techniques and warning signs to avoid.”
Alan also stressed the importance of SELECT’s ongoing campaign for the regulation of the electrical industry in Scotland which, if successful, will make it unlawful for anyone to offer electrical services unless they are properly qualified.
He concludes, “We are committed to ensuring that people are properly trained and qualified in this industry because we have heard too many stories about the consequences of poor workmanship and poor installations.”