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Schools not preparing leavers for technical careers, says survey

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School leavers are rarely well-prepared for apprenticeships or careers in the electrotechnical and engineering services sector, according to a new report from The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP), of which ECA is a leading member.

Over half (52%) of employers said that unsatisfactory attitudes and behaviours are the biggest barrier to the recruitment of apprentices. In addition, employers cited a lack of knowledge and qualifications among candidates, and a general shortage of good-quality applicants, as being factors in their inability to bring in the people they need. 

Some employers express concerns that schools do not teach young people basic electrical principles in their physics lessons. Some believe that the lack of practical electrics and electrical theory may be a result of the pupils being encouraged to pursue academic routes.

The skills employers said are most lacking in younger recruits include:

  • Oral and written English communication
  • Basic maths skills
  • Work ethic and motivation
  • Soft skills (such as basic timekeeping)

Almost half (45%) of employers in the sector believe that greater promotion of electrotechnical careers in schools is essential to tackling skill shortages and recruitment problems.

In response, ECA and other TESP partners will be launching a series of programmes to bring industry and education closer together over the next year. These will include further enhancements to the Electrical Careers website; support for direct engagement between employers and local schools; promotion of work placement and work experience opportunities; and, greater encouragement for industry insiders to consider becoming part-time assessors or lecturers.

ECA director of employment and skills Andrew Eldred said: “Clearly this gap between employers and education is undesirable and unsustainable. All too often technical apprenticeships are being misrepresented as entry-level courses for low-paying jobs. More employers need to get into our schools, so that apprenticeships in our sector are recognised for what they really are: a potential gateway to a rewarding, diverse and well-paid career.”

Adele Wilkinson, director of West Yorkshire-based ECA member business Envirolectrics Ltd, commented: “There’s a view that everyone should go to university and apprenticeships don’t have a very positive image, especially electrical which is not being promoted as an academic subject. It is a scientific subject in terms of design and calculations; there are brains involved.”

Jez Revell, divisional manager of East Anglia-based ECA member business Engenda Group Lectec Services Ltd, added, “Written skills, oral communication, and being able to express ideas can often be lacking. We’re quite a technical company so we’re also looking for the ability to be more than just a basic installer – we look for an ability to design and be more technical.”

The findings support previous research from ECA and YouGov in 2017, which found that just 8% of school leavers were being advised to seek apprenticeships.

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