Licence to Practice works in other countries and other industries. Clients are better served, Contractors are more productive and Workers are recognised and rewarded. The absence of regulation and historical systemic weaknesses in self-regulation has produced severe difficulties for the UK industry. Low productivity, poor quality work, inadequate training and recurrent failure to attract and retain high-quality new entrants characterise an industry undermined by endemic and historical poor gatekeeping.
To be fair, there are examples of traditional SME and sole enterprises who have countered the decline. They have done so with resolute leadership skills, behaviours, and customer service standards aimed at achieving win-win repeat business outcomes. So what’s gone wrong and how do we begin to fix it?
We’ve got to examine the conditions below the surface if we are to determine why the industry has become progressively weak and threatened.
Political interest in our industry is often patchy. However, the efforts of MP’s including the Right Hon Clive Betts have provided insight into the pros and cons of competent person schemes.
The 2008 global recession rocked the UK construction sector, accelerating the demise of regulated pay, spiking a trend in persistent market-driven sub-economic tendering practices.
Demand for competent labour is frustrated by the industry’s survivalist business model. The industry has become reliant on an aging workforce and annually fails to attract high-quality new entrants from the dwindling school leaver supply pool.
Andrew Wolstenholme OBE in his foreword to the Farmer Review “Modernise or Die” stated, “The challenge the report sets us is to do things differently.” This comment requires further context, but the spirit of the idea of doing things differently is essential. Tweaking existing failing systems is not going to halt the decline. Reform remains at a pedestrian pace and is too slow to tackle decades of underinvestment in promoting and protecting the industry best asset – the electrical worker.
The industry must begin by addressing the elephant in the room, i.e., unqualified, under qualified and self-determined electrical workers. Nonconformity in this area is viral throughout the UK industry. The industry dislikes but tolerates this condition because the virtuous (high-skilled) loop has been replaced by a vicious (low-bidder) circle.
The source and solution of the problem lies with the client. We must educate and equip discerning clients with the means to bring about rapid self-correcting and mutually beneficial measures aimed at rewarding competency, encouraging progression and excluding cowboys. Social procurement values and sustainability of the construction industry have come to the fore of responsible planners and developers. It’s up to the electrical industry to tap into these valuable and emerging qualities.
The principles of Licence to Practice are simple –
Persuade clients to procure construction services from Main Contractors who only subcontract with electrical contractors who only employ Licenced electrical workers.
Provide clients with an online dashboard view of the electrical contractor’s workforce by Licence type, and follow-up on-site audit services.
Progress the industry towards improving quality and raising standards to attract, train and retain competent electrical workers.