Short, affordable training courses aimed at electrical installers are increasingly popular.
However, many domestic and commercial contractors are concerned that newly trained workers with limited practical experience are starting to flood the market, with potentially dangerous consequences.
We’ve heard the same story from many of our electrical estimating software users, as well as other contractors in the field, which raises the question of what can be done about it. Here we take a closer look at why this issue is so controversial.
Why are short courses so popular?
In the UK, for individuals to become qualified electricians they must complete a Level 3 Diploma/NVQ course, at college or as part of an apprenticeship. This usually takes 3-4 years to complete and requires a significant amount of hands-on experience working in the field, which is considered essential in order to gain the necessary skills and knowledge. For many areas of electrical work (generally commercial and industrial), full qualifications are an essential requirement.
However, to carry out smaller domestic tasks like the installation of socket and lighting circuits, there are short courses available to train as a domestic installer. Such courses are widely offered and advertised by various training companies. They can be completed in as little as 3 weeks, although those who only complete a course at this level cannot claim to be fully qualified electricians.
The short-term benefits are obvious from the perspective of potential workers. With a relatively small investment of time and money, workers can gain a new skill and enter an industry with little or no previous experience. The prospect of getting paid, independent work very quickly is obviously attractive, and training companies are capitalising on this. However, this raises numerous questions.
So, what’s the problem with these courses?
Many contractors have expressed frustration with the increasing prevalence of short, relatively basic training courses in the industry.
The most obvious problem is that domestic installer courses offered by training companies do not require individuals to have prior experience or to work whilst they are training, unlike diplomas or apprenticeships.
As a result, workers with only a few weeks’ worth of training simply lack the in-depth knowledge that more experienced professionals rely on in their day-to-day work. Although basic skills may be enough for simple installations and repairs, completing electrical work safely and effectively often calls for more advanced skills, even for domestic jobs.
This is made even worse when individuals start working independently as soon as they complete their basic training course, without “shadowing” a more experienced and qualified electrician like an apprentice would be expected to. This can potentially lead to more frequent and serious mistakes, and a lower overall standard of work.
How serious are the risks?
As we’ve said, it stands to reason that less experienced electrical engineers tend to make honest mistakes more often. If they get noticed and corrected, this will probably cost time and money (often for both the customer and the contractor).
More importantly, electrical systems are outright dangerous when mistakes are made and left unnoticed. Serious errors can lead to fires, injuries or even death. At best, mistakes at this level reflect extremely poorly on the installer’s reputation.
Why is the issue so controversial?
In theory, domestic installers should be able to work on simple jobs with no major problems. Most courses are accredited by regulatory bodies and seemingly provide the training they advertise to an adequate level.
In reality, there are several problems with this.
Firstly, domestic customers often have little understanding of the industry or the work involved. In many cases, all they know is they have a problem and they need an electrician to fix it. When customers don’t know much about the different levels of training, their choice will often come down to whoever offers the cheapest service. Inevitably, the results may not be up to scratch.
This is made worse when contractors become over-confident or even misunderstand the type of work they’re qualified for. For-profit training companies might not be deliberately misleading, but it’s in their interests to make their own courses sound more attractive. They typically focus on the potential work opportunities as opposed to the risks and limitations, so it’s possible that inexperienced installers who are new to the industry might get carried away.
The most serious problem comes when contractors deliberately mislead customers and claim to be more qualified than they really are. Although domestic installers aren’t allowed to promote themselves as fully qualified electricians, some do, while others simply avoid specifying their exact level of training.
This is understandably frustrating for established, fully trained contractors who prioritise safety and take their reputation seriously, especially in the highly competitive commercial market.
What can contractors do about this issue?
Electrical contractors are not the only skilled workers affected by inconsistent training across the industry. For better or worse, it seems that individuals looking to enter a completely new field have more types of training available to them than ever before.
Intensive courses are widely available, but the disadvantages compared to years of on-the-job training seem less widely understood. As a result, there is certainly a perception that the industry has become over-saturated, without enough clarity when it comes to skill level and qualifications.
One basic requirement for all electrical engineers should be the ability to assess whether they are sufficiently competent to complete a particular job safely. If they aren’t, honesty is the best policy. Less experienced workers might be tempted to accept jobs beyond their skill level, but the potentially disastrous consequences cannot be overstated.
Among contractors who choose to focus on maintaining high standards of work, the main goal is raising awareness in the market. More than ever, contractors need to find ways to make their customers understand the advantage of choosing a professional electrician with advanced training and years of experience.