The case for reconnecting the Industry through Licence to Practice

21 September 2015


Like many other sectors in the local construction industry, in the past decade, electrical installation contractors have lost some of the essential structure and momentum that previously shaped their reputation and performance. Unqualified and unskilled workers have entered the supply chain. False self-employment has emerged.  This has undermined the resolve of many employers who would otherwise be committed to the time tested values of direct employment and apprenticeship training. The quality of workmanship, productivity and electrical safety standards have declined.


During the period, the organised side of the local industry has become dismayed.  Like many others, the industry has become subject to low morale, frustrations and business failures linked to sub economic tendering and an alarming run of well documented insolvencies.  Since 2010, serious attempts have been made by the local industry to introduce self-correcting measures.  This has led to a revival in the idea of electrical licence to practice (LtP).

Best Example

Northern Ireland is currently leading the way in the UK, in terms of an authentic electrical Licence to Practice system. We have produced a system that connects the competency of individual electrical workers on a project by project basis by licence type.  This appears in the form of a unique on-line workforce composition report providing the client with visibility, transparency and reporting tools that deter fraud and encourage improved contract performance.

Be pro-active on Licence to Practice

It is clear that most electrical contractors have recognised the argument for change in favour of a Licence to Practice approach.  This is also seen as a probable means of addressing the race to the bottom culture and the negative effect that this has on the NI skill base.  The effort to date has involved a relatively significant investment by the industry in terms of business capital, worker payment contributions, creative thinking, and ingenuity and of course hard work.

A key objective of Licence to Practice is to create a level playing field whereby labour costs and competencies are restored to responsible levels on which tenders can be prepared and submitted.  With a few exceptions, the local industry has been underselling its skills and services.

Labour costs accounts for circa 30% of most tenders. This is the area were losses are often the most acute, and follows in most cases from heavy discounting and an over reliance on the ailing third party sub-contract supply chain.

More of the same doesn’t appear to be working. We have been doing the same poor things and getting the same poor results for too long in the local market. By supporting this initiative the industry will be demonstrating to its clients and employees, that it is committed to an important measure of reform and self-regulation.