Skills, drills and bellyaches: Electricians give their honest opinion in latest SELECT podcast

25/06/2024

Experienced electricians share their robust views on a range of topics in the latest episode of the industry podcast, recorded live at Toolbox Talk event at Hampden.

Five seasoned electricians have provided a unique insight into the current state of the industry in the fifth episode of the popular Sparks’ Remarks podcast from Scotland’s biggest trade association, SELECT.

Skills, drills and bellyaches – live from Hampden Spark! sees contractors give their honest views on a wide range of topics, including the ongoing challenge of recruitment and the promising future for battery storage and photovoltaic (PV) installations.

Recorded live at SELECT’s Toolbox Talk event at Hampden Park last month 23 May, the episode also sees contractors offering their forthright opinions on cashflow, regulation of the profession – and even which biscuits they get offered on jobs.

One hot topic that electricians were keen to discuss was the current skills shortage, with Mark Higgins of Edinburgh-based C~urb telling the podcast: “It’s disheartening to hear young people say they don’t want to go into trades because they can get £15 an hour in McDonald’s.

“Many also say they have relatives who’ve worked in the trade and have dodgy knees and bad backs and they don’t want that.”

Gavin Ross, Commercial Director at Prime Electrical Group in Cumbernauld, also gave his views, revealing: “We find recruitment of apprentices fairly easy but with qualified electricians it’s difficult to recruit the right person for the right job.

“A lot of our work is in residential new build housing, so getting the operatives able to work in that environment or transferring them from commercial to residential or vice versa is challenge.”

And Kevin Griffin, former SELECT President and owner of Ayrshire-based Logic Systems Fire and Security Ltd, agreed, adding: “Post-COVID, a lot of people have retired so there’s been a gap in skilled people and skills shortages all over. And that’s definitely going to be an issue going forward.”

Alan Watt spoke about renewables and cash flow

Renewables was also a topic for discussion, with Alan Watt, owner of Glasgow-based Alltech Electrical Systems claiming that PV and battery storage is “a game changer”.

Alan told the podcast: “We’ve been working hard to move into the solar PV side as many of our customers have been hit by the cost of living and want to save money on their energy bills.

“Although grants are pretty non-existent, solar PV and battery storage has reignited people’s imagination and we’re doing a lot of installs now.

“Battery storage is the real game changer because it means you can store your energy and use it when you want.”

Sole trader, Jim Mackie of Select Electrician in Glasgow, agreed, adding: “Over the next five years, I think installing solar PV will see exciting growth and it’s something I’m going to get myself involved in, although I plan to go for the maintenance side.

“Getting older, I don’t want to be crawling about in a roof – I’d prefer to be just fixing inverters and fault finding.”

As always, the topic of regulation was never far from delegates’ lips at Toolbox Talks, with SELECT members expressing their ongoing support for the association’s long-running campaign for protection of title for the profession of electrician.

Kevin said: “It’s a ridiculous situation and hard to believe that it hasn’t gained traction with the government.

“Most people think that someone has to have some sort of certification before they can walk in your door and tamper with your electrics.

“In the gas sector, they have Gas Safe Register so why not something in a similar vein for the electrical trade? There’s no logic to it and we must certainly keep chipping away at it.”

And cashflow was also a topic of conversation, with Jim revealing: “You’re always chasing your tail and paying out for the next job while waiting for payment from another – it’s a chase all the time.”

Kevin Griffin is interviewed for the podcast

Along with the serious topics, the five contractors were also quizzed on their biscuit of choice on a job, with most opting for a classic Tunnock’s treat.

Kevin said: “The caramel wafer or tea cake is ideal – as long as you don’t eat the whole box.”

And although they may have had differing views on some issues, all those interviewed were in agreement on one thing – their enthusiasm for the industry and SELECT Toolbox Talks.

Mark said: “I’ve been in the trade since I left school at 17 and I’m 47 now. I love my trade and want to keep carrying the flag – it’s like a badge you wear or your football top.

“I really like keeping people safe and we need to encourage that attitude and spread the word.”

Jim added: “I’ve been coming to the Toolbox Talks events for about four or five years, and find them really informative. I also attend SELECT branch meetings as much as I can because, being a sole trader, you stay informed about any important technical updates.”

Gavin agreed, adding: “Toolbox Talks are great for networking and to get a catch up on technical information. It means I can go back to the office and cascade it to the rest of the workforce, which is very important.”

The latest instalment of Sparks’ Remarks follows hot on the heels of the first four episodes, which featured the views of apprentices at various stages of their training across Scotland.

April 2023’s launch episode, The good, the bad and the fallopian tube windups, was followed by More than wires and pliers: My first year as an apprentice in July, then Five-way tag teams, the proud father and a kick up the bahookie in November.

The fourth episode Telling a lock nut from a hazel nut, was released in April 2024.

All have been hosted by journalist Kim McAllister, who said: “For this latest episode, it was great to meet such a wide variety of contractors and hear their contrasting views on such a broad number of topics.

“Although they all had different viewpoints, it was also clear that they all had one thing in common – they are all completely passionate about the industry and their role within it.”

Iain Mason, Director of Membership & Communications at SELECT, added: “This podcast is a fascinating glimpse into the issues that are currently front of mind with SELECT Members and is an indicator of how the sector is currently developing in Scotland.”

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