Training - Training: the growth enabler?

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Mike Henshaw of Omega Red Group, a company specialising in earthing and lightning protection, investigates


During the recession in the early 1990’s, hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers were lost from the construction industry. Since then only the most progressive companies have continued to make a significant training investment in their workforce and ensure that they have a balanced, skilled team.
The earthing and lightning protection sector has identified the need for professional training to ensure companies can properly resource the industry’s growth. The vehicle for this training is the Lightning Conductor Engineering Apprenticeship run by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). Running since the early 1990’s, it continues to deliver quality, professionally trained engineers into the industry.
Omega has grown steadily over recent years and, in order to properly resource growth, has been a strong advocate of industry apprenticeships. We believe this method is the most effective way to guarantee properly trained and skilled workers are available to meet the growth plans of our business and the industry sector overall. With skilled trades people being effectively ‘home grown’ through the apprenticeship scheme, companies are able to ensure a good knowledge of health & safety together with best practice job related skills are developed to the highest standard.
The apprentice route does not come without a need for some crucial added input from the recruiting company.The recruitment and retention process used by Omega follows a professional model:-
Good recruitment practices are the key
Our involvement is vital so we spend time ensuring we recruit the right type of person to fit the role. We have built a good reputation for training and so soliciting interest in our apprenticeship scheme is not difficult.
Selected applicants are interviewed to assess suitability and determine whether they would fit in to the organisation - this is a particularly important factor in ensuring long-term retention. Candidates who successfully negotiate through the first round interviews attend the CITB National Construction College (NCC) at Bircham Newton near Kings Lynn for further suitability assessments. Those passing the rigorous rounds of interviews and assessments are then offered places on the apprenticeship programme and are based at one of five regional offices.

Structured training is essential
Apprentices are recruited in early autumn to provide an introduction to working life, the construction industry and the company before they start their training at NCC.
The academic and off-the-job practical training usually starts in January and comprises 24 weeks residential training at NCC over a two-year period. Off-the-job training covers all technical and practical aspects of the job. The College also provides welfare, sport and other activities which help our apprentices successfully complete their academic training.
Off-the-job training is augmented by on-the-job training. Apprentices are taught in a wide range of disciplines including health and safety, safe accessing, earthing and lightning protection design in order to satisfy evidencing criteria needed for the successful completion of the course.
It is important to celebrate the success of the trainees and this is done internally by updating company notice boards, several other communication methods and by senior managers and directors of the company attending the annual prize giving at NCC.
Ensuring retention
The direct cost of employing an apprentice is roughly £20,000 over the two year period, after the CITB grant. Considering the costs of recruiting and training over the two-year period, our key driver is to ensure appropriate retention policies are in place. These include regular meetings with apprentices, visiting them whilst at the college and working closely with CITB staff. It is important to monitor the progress of apprentices and provide them with support, guidance and encouragement.
Omega’s recruitment plan together with ongoing mentoring means it retains in excess of 90% of all apprentices through to the end of their apprenticeship. More than 13 years after the first lightning conductor engineering apprenticeship course was run, we still have an overall retention of 65% of all the apprentices recruited.
Success of Apprenticeship Training Scheme
As with any business asset, the measure of success is based upon the return on investment. We believe recruiting apprentices is vital to the current and future growth plans of our business. The real success is in ensuring the company has the right number of competent people to fulfil the needs of our customers in a safe, professional and efficient manner. It follows that if the company is able to achieve this aim then it benefits from a more loyal customer base, reduced long-term recruitment costs and a more effective workforce. In the end this whole process aims for and achieves enhanced profitability.
Benefits to Industry
The construction industry, sadly, has a reputation for harbouring many unprofessional operators. Properly recruited and trained apprentices developing into competent trades people will go some way to achieving a reputation for trust and professionalism.
Omega Red Group has heavily supported industry apprenticeship training since the course started 12 years ago. As a result of this investment, almost 100 apprentices over the last 13 years, the company has doubled turnover with a much lower proportional increase in its labour force.
Without investment in apprentices, customers and the industry will suffer from a lack of competent, safe tradespeople. Whilst apprentices involve a short term cost, without them the industry will never achieve the respect, and profitability, it needs.

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PAT scheme and training from NICEIC


To support its national registration scheme for enterprises conducting portable appliance testing (PAT), NICEIC has developed a PAT training course which will provide enterprises with the key competence qualifications required. An NICEIC Guide to Electrical Equipment Maintenance is also available as a reference.
Many deaths and injuries result from poorly maintained electrical equipment and fires started by faulty electrical appliances. Around 1,000 electrical accidents at work are reported to the Health and Safety Executive each year, of these, 30 people die of their injuries.
All electrical equipment should be maintained and checked regularly to ensure it is safe and in good repair. Managers responsible for electrical equipment maintenance should ensure equipment is maintained in a safe condition, information is available to equipment users to ensure safety, safe procedures for inspection and testing are used and records of inspection and testing are maintained.
The NICEIC scheme and register provides companies with a straightforward route to registration, formal recognition of competence to undertake PAT testing services and a reference for purchasers of PAT testing services.
Safety First, a specialist PAT testing company operating in Northern Ireland assisted NICEIC to pilot the scheme. Mervyn Portis, Director, explained: “We are delighted to be recognised by the NICEIC solely for our PAT testing services. We have seen a growing trend in our clients realising the benefits of only using NICEIC contractors to undertake PAT work. Our clients have the added assurance that our standard of work will be continually monitored.”
Existing NICEIC registrants need do nothing further as they will be contacted separately with details of the scheme. NICEIC approved contractors with full approval will automatically meet the scheme requirements for inclusion in the PAT register.