The new president of the Electrical Contractors’ Association has called for radical action to create opportunities for young people and protect the industry’s future.
Diane Johnson, who became the figurehead for the association this month, made tackling future skills shortages the number one priority for her 12-month tenure.
She called on the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government to make direct employment of apprentices a clause of all public contracts, and for a transfer fee to be enforced for companies hiring staff trained elsewhere.
Ms Johnson said: “The average age of an electrician is 44, and we have gone from producing
10,000-15,000 trainees a year to less than 2,500. We are sitting on a timebomb.
“My greatest wish from government is that anyone winning a public contract has to directly
employ apprentices. Maybe we have to force people to look at how they are going to train.”
She added: “I would like to see a transfer fee for people trained up by a company – like in football. Are you going to train someone if someone else can poach them?”
Ms Johnson is the financial director of family business Eric Johnson of Northwich, an
electrical contractor focusing on the industrial and commercial sectors.
When she switched to construction from the banking industry, she says she was shocked by the problems firms faced chasing payment.
“I don’t understand why the main contractor holds the money for all the other disciplines,” she said.
“We will keep banging the drum for fair payment practices. If companies are not being paid then they can’t train staff – and green technologies will not evolve without cash flow.”
Elsewhere, she wants to make the industry more attractive to women, and help electrical firms to benefit from the sustainability drive.
'As a country, we have carbonb targets for 2020 and we have to get across to people the benefits of technology – education in the home can change how we think about business.
“I want the ECA to allow members to become energy advisers, to help people reduce emissions and costs. The basic skills are there but it is about bolting on knowledge of sustainability technologies.”
She added: “The traditional construction work is not going to be there so we need to look to where the new work is coming. This market might lead us out of recession. Every pound spent on construction puts £2.84 into the economy.”