Electrical Training - where are we going?

I recently read an article by Dr Simon Reddy, which examined Further Education and Apprenticeship Qualifications, from a Plumbing point of view.

It unfortunately rang a great many bells for me, in my experience of Electrical training within an F.E. environment. At one point in his study Dr Reddy states;

" Tutors were despondant at the process of allowing students to continually re-sit online assessments until they achieved a pass mark. "

At one F.E. college I worked at some years ago, it was not uncommon to see students being allowed to re-sit exams five or even six times before they passed, by which time they should have known the questions by heart!

The same, however, can also be said of written assignments, which are handed in, marked by the tutor with feedback on where improvements are needed, and then handed back to the student for correction. Now, nothing wrong with that, we all have to learn, but when some students are still not getting it right after four amendments, the alarm bells start to ring.

Dr Reddy hints at one of the main issues driving this when he refers to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

"Dromey, McNeil and Roberts (2017) argued that, in the absence of employer demand for skills, providers have come to rely on funding and regulatory systems set by a central government."

My own personal experience of this, in more than one F.E. college that I have worked at in recent years is that " you have to get them through, no matter what, otherwise we cannot draw down the funding!"

In other words, the students cannot fail, no matter how poorly they perform, eventually they will get through, due to the economic pressures on the College. I have even had several cases where I refused to sign a student off, so a department manager signed them off instead. Needless to say, I left that particular establishment soon afterwards!

I am a firm believer in the idea that NOT EVERYONE can be an electrician, the same as I could not be a plasterer (I just leave it all on the floor) or a mechanic (I draw the line at putting petrol in!). If we have a system where students are not allowed to 'not achieve', we end up with a self fulfilling prophecy, students learn that they are guaranteed to achieve and can have multiple attempts at exams, so some do not put the effort into learning, so they fail etc etc....

So do I blame the F.E. Colleges that practise this way, well not entirely, I do have a tiny little bit of sympathy for them. The electrical training sector has been inundated in recent years with 'quick-fix' courses from a multitude of private training providers. Be an electrician in 20 days, or even less! Not that long ago even one of our most respected trade bodies was offering 5 day courses for 'Domestic Installers'! Many of these shorter courses are aimed at the domestic market, because many people think it is easy to wire a house, any fool could do it. (Not a view that I hold by the way, I firmly believe this has led to an increase in the incidence of fires in the home).

I actually rang one of these training providers up to enquire about a 20 day course, which included a number of City and Guilds qualifications (four) within that time-scale, as well as learning all about electrical theory! I was told they never had anybody fail, and that I would be a qualified electrician and able to wire houses as a Domestic Installer!

Hence there are a lot of people entering the trade through these other routes, and less starting on the apprenticeships. There are less apprenticeship places anyway, because of the influx of 'Domestic Installers' and other partially skilled persons, and the lack of regulation within our industry. (Please do not even mention the Competent Person Scheme, it is nonsense as it does NOT guarantee a competent person coming out to do the work - we have already proved that!)

This has led to a fall in student numbers for F.E. Colleges, and quite a few are struggling. Some compensate by having less staff and bigger classes (I had a class of 32 for an evening course in recent years!), others just do not run electrical courses, or adjust the courses to suit their economic needs. Student learning is directed at passing the exams rather than gaining a thorough knowledge and understanding of the subject. Tutors end up marking assignments in the classroom while the class 'practice' on mock papers to prepare for the next exam.

Now, I am not denying that there are many very skilled and able students out there, completing the apprenticeships with flying colours, and contributing greatly to enhance the skills and knowledge within the industry. There are F.E. Colleges doing amazing things and delivering quality training. But underlying that there are a number of people entering the workplace, that have very limited knowledge of electrical theory, dubious inspection and testing skills, (that is if they even bother to inspect and test what they install), and no idea of safe design.

If only we had some legislation to register individual electricians as a licensed professional ...... sounds familiar?

Stay safe!

Phil Watts

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