Investing in the Next Generation

From electric vehicles and heat pumps to solar panels and wind farms, all the innovative technologies that are driving the UK towards achieving net zero, need one important thing – more qualified electricians.

One sunny morning in Belper, Derbyshire, electricians from MA Broughton arrive on a new housing development by Wheeldon Brothers. With every house here having solar PV and EV charging points installed, it’s a glimpse of what the average home in the country will look like in the near future.

“Net zero for the electrical industry is fantastic,” says Clint Cottee, Contract Director for MA Broughton. “There’s a lot more to the property and everyone’s thinking out of the box now. It’s not just we’re going to wire a property. It’s what can we do to save energy going forward?”

At the heart of the transition to Net Zero is the electrification of the UK’s energy infrastructure. How energy is produced, transport, business operations, home heating; they all need to be converted to electricity and the task of doing that falls to electricians.

Yet the surge in demand for all things electrical, whether it be solar panels, EV charging points, or battery installation, has revealed a gap in the country’s electrotechnical workforce. We do not currently have enough electricians to meet demand.

Between 2019 to 2020, just over 6,700 apprentices were taken into the industry, according to TESP.

“That really needs to go up to 12 or 13,000,” says Andrew Eldred, the ECA’s director of Workforce and Public Affairs. “Just to respond to the loss of people through retirement and leaving the industry and also that increase in demand from new technology.”

It’s easy to see the appeal for a career in the electrotechnical industry. The sector is expanding rapidly, with a 17% increase in turnover between 2015 and 2020 (TESP ‘21).

“Part of the appeal has always been earnings. A qualified, competent electrician can easily earn £40,000 a year or more. They’re also excellent career progression prospects and so if you don’t want to remain as an electrician, you can progress into engineering, design, management, commercial disciplines as well,” according to Eldred.

Part of the problem is the lack of job opportunities for aspiring electricians.

“The demand is there,” states Ruth Devine, Director of SDJ Electrical and Chair of TESP. “There’s not enough places for apprentices. So typically, they may go into full time college and roughly only 40% within convert into roles in the sector.”

Apprentices are not a burden to a company. Far from it. They are the next generation of workers that ensure the continuation and growth of a company.

“As a business you can only survive and prosper if you’ve got access to those people and those skills,” argues Eldred. “Companies that simply rely on taking people who’ve been trained by other people do not have a sustainable, long-term future. If you train, you will lose some of those people, but you also hang onto some and they will be the future basis for your growth and prosperity.”

Back in the MA Broughton yard, Clint explains to a young apprentice what he will be doing on the Belper site. For Clint and the company, apprentices are a core part of their workforce.

“We want young minds to come to the industry of electrical technical because we need these people to drive it forward. We need this new generation of young minds to help us get a grip of this. And it’s only this generation that’s going to do it.”

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