I’ve just enrolled on a three-year course to become an electrician. It’s a complete career change, but after being made redundant four times from the engineering sector, I want a job that is “recession-proof”. However, because I now attend college during the week, I’m only available to work part-time. I’m worried this could put recruiters off from hiring me. Am I doing the right thing? Steven, 58, via email
You’ve certainly taken a bold step, Steven. Throwing your own money and time into a three-year course is not easy and demonstrates your commitment to changing careers. To some extent, your reasons for wanting to become an electrician are sound: businesses and home owners will always need electricians.
A word of caution though. The industry is far from “recession proof”. As construction and manufacturing projects have been scaled back over the last few years, so too has the need for all the trades associated with them – and electricians have suffered. David Marshall, of Electrical Recruitment Specialists, says he receives up to 150 applications for jobs. And all of them are from qualified electricians, with endless contact books and experience. When you qualify, you’ll be competing against them.
Which is why, if you’re serious about a career as an electrician, you must spend the next three years learning the trade, working in the trade, and building contacts in the trade. There is absolutely no point getting your course while working in a totally unrelated job – even if it’s something technical like engineering, Marshall says. Employers will want to see you’ve learned the ropes during your three years. That means rolling your sleeves up and getting out on site, just as much as it does turning up to class.
First things first though, Steven. Make sure your course is industry-recognised. I’ve done a bit of digging around for you, and to be taken seriously you must be on a City & Guilds course. If you’re not, change this now. If you are, you should be aiming – eventually – for an Electrotechnical Certification Scheme competence card, a “pass” which allows you to work at any industrial or domestic site. Check the sector’s skills council, Summit Skills, to make sure you’re on the right course at www.summitskills.org.uk.
Your next step is to try and secure work in the field. But as Matt Darville, an engineer at electrical contractors’ body the NICEIC, says: “Offering to do jobs for virtually nothing is a good start.” Electricians start as “labourers”, or “mates”, for about £10 an hour. The next level is called an “improver”, at about £11. They work with electricians, handing him or her cables, knocking down walls, talking to clients – everything except the actual wiring. Without these skills, employers are unlikely to consider you when you become qualified. You have to prove you can get stuck in, stomach long periods outside in the rain, or up a pole if need be. The contacts and job opportunities you’ll get from doing this are potentially huge. The Electrical Contractors’ Association website, www.eca.co.uk, lists the employers with these types of jobs available. Iain Macdonald, of the ECA, urges you to get your pitch right before approaching them, though. If you’re willing, state that you can work at a beginners’ rates, or firms may assume someone like you is too expensive.


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