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Opinion/training – Green light for the electrical industry to flourish

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Iain Macdonald, head of education and training at the Electrical Contractors’  Association (ECA), discusses what the sustainability agenda and the Low Carbon Skills Consultation will mean for the electrical industry


Skills and sustainability are interconnected issues, and nowhere is this more relevant than in the electrical sector. Our industry will play a front line role in the drive for energy efficiency as not only does our sphere of influence encompass both domestic and commercial sectors, but we are on the frontline to advise and install the technology that will take the green agenda forward.

The drive for sustainability is going to provide a significant level of work for the electrical industry in the short and long term. Whilst the numbers of new properties being built are falling, there are still 24 million existing properties which need to be retrofitted to improve their energy efficiency significantly.

In addition, the government’s ambitious Carbon Reduction Commitment targets, which require the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, will mean work in the commercial sector should increase, as energy efficiency and carbon reduction become mandatory targets for companies;

Further opportunity is also presented by the strengthening of Part L of the Building Regulations. The emphasis placed on energy efficiency and the call for advisory and practical action on this issue could have been tailor made for the electrical sector.

However, the question we need to ask is do we have the skills within the industry to cope with this? The government’s Low Carbon Skills Consultation, which closed to submissions on 23 June, concurs with our view that the majority of skills needed to make the transition to a low carbon economy will not be new ones. What this means for our industry is that the basic tools are present so we must grasp the opportunity with both hands.

From fitting energy efficient lighting to installing photovoltaics, the people best placed to effectively advise both domestic and commercial clients on the most effective measures they can take, as well as actually installing the technology, are electricians. We need to pitch ourselves as energy advisors to both domestic and commercial clients.

Instead of needing a new breed of ‘green consultants’, most electrical professionals will have the skills to advise on, and implement, the sustainability agenda. For those that don’t, it’s simply a case of getting up to speed with the demands of the work created; this need not be costly, complicated or time consuming.

There are a range of courses available to top up existing levels of skills. General or introductory courses provide an overview of the different sustainable technologies suitable for the UK, relevant legislation and basic principles of operation. These are suitable for company owners, managers, directors, sole traders, engineers and anyone who is considering operating in this area but needs to know more.

Installation courses are available for qualified, experienced electricians and building services engineers. They provide in-depth knowledge on the installation of individual renewable energy systems.

However, our industry is facing a skills crisis. If we don’t act now, we will soon lack the number of operatives with the appropriate skills to deliver projects of any nature, both large and small. We must ensure that our industry survives and that it is able to play its integral part in meeting the challenges and opportunities presented by the government’s sustainability drive.

The sustainability agenda will benefit our industry, as well as the planet. The government’s Low Carbon Skills Consultation has reinforced the front line role which electrical professionals have to play; to us and to the public. We should work hard to minimise the scope for so-called ‘green consultants’ to emerge and make money from the green agenda while we are perfectly placed to deliver. The real expertise and opportunity lies in the hands of the electrical industry; it is time to build on the skills we have to ensure that we are ready to step up to the mark as energy advisors in this burgeoning market.

Iain Macdonald is head of education and training at the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), overseeing training and development initiatives for the organisation’s membership. In 2008 he oversaw the launch of the ECA’s £10 million training fund which gives grants to ECA members to participate in training courses or programmes, which the Association believes will help tackle skills shortages in identified areas of the industry.

James Pearson

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