More tough answers to questions about the future of our industry

Industry News: 10 May 2017

4. Will the current rate of deskilling continue?

The trend towards deskilling is already established. Workers with limited knowledge and light weight assessments appear to have entered the industry in relatively large numbers in the past two decades. The output of short form courses provides a false platform on which parts of the industry are obliged to rely on to overcome the national skills gap. Some employers demonstrate excellence towards workforce training and planning. The efforts to do so, come on the back of careful cost-benefit analysis that keeps them ahead of the demand curve.

However, the significant majority of electrical workers in the industry are not up to date with the current with accredited knowledge of the BS7671 IET Wiring Requirements. This indictment must sit poorly before the progress that other industrial nations have made. Internal drivers to overcome this outstanding and possibly embarrassing problem for the industry in the 21st Century appear to be absent.

Efforts to train and assess apprentices across a wide range of experiences and knowledge are commendable. However, work practices on large commercial and industrial projects, are increasingly dependent on semi-skilled workers to undertake first fix, containment and cabling tasks. And inspection and testing operations are increasingly carried out by internal or external specialists. This practice may make commercial sense but tends to deskill the majority of post apprentice workers. The drift towards deskilling is not universal or irreversible. However, failure to recognise and address the problem and leave it to the next generation will only further weaken the brand and standing of the trade domestically and internationally.

5. Will there be more or less fake electrical qualifications and cards in circulation by 2020?
The technology, opportunity and motivation to produce fake electrical qualifications and plastics cards already exists. Identity theft and use of forged skill cards are well documented. Image spliced certificates can dupe most employers and employment agencies.

Plastic card printers and modern photocopiers are used to overcome the average scrutineer. Only a minority of employers are equipped or minded to assess the authenticity of certificates and plastic cards. Pressure to meet program schedules and maintain productivity often means that indirect supplementary labour enters the supply chain with minimal identity and competency checks.

The majority of UK electrical installation workers appear to practice outside the scope of industry recognised registration bodies. Extended sub-contract letting of work packages to labour gangs weakens the check and balance control measures that are typically applied to direct employees. This practice suggests the possibility that significant numbers of workers with unattested qualifications have entered the supply chain.

6. Will there be an increased dependency on false self-employed workers and employment agencies?

The benefits of the direct employment model are challenged by businesses that have developed a management only cost-benefit methodology. Both systems are valid. The latter relies on labour gangs and a subcontract supply chain that can sponsor the development of false self-employment in the sector. Past UK Governments encouraged enterprise and provided the option to build new business models on self-employment. This provision makes sense regarding flexibility and suits parts of the construction industry and workers in the present economy. However, the emergence of this option has led to the rapid growth and control of employment agencies over much of the industries principle asset. The shift in control, exposes some employers to becoming over dependant on third party standards and values. Questions also arise around the resilience of the wider industry when faced with effects of variant hourly pay rates upon a transitory workforce.