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Bridging the skills gap

Apr 2017 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Bridging the skills gap
Bridging the skills gap

Peter Coombs, field marketing manager at Schneider Electric, takes a look at the widening skills gap, how it is affecting the electrical contracting sector and the opportunities that the IoT presents for electricians

The UK is experiencing one of the strongest economic recoveries in Europe. Almost two million new jobs have been created as business confidence and investment return following the recession. Meanwhile, the percentage of the population in work is at an all-time high of 73.3%.

Despite this, the UK’s skills shortage still poses a threat to continued growth and skilled trades in particular are one of the most sought after roles in the UK, yet employers are struggling to fill the void because demand is outstripping supply.

Nearly a quarter of all job vacancies last year were a consequence of the skills crisis, and at present, 43% of vacancies in skilled trades are a result of this skills shortage, with electricians making up 13% of these.

The hole is widening as mature contractors check out of the industry, some because of recession-led retirement and others because of career changes.

If you build it, they will come

As such, this is an exciting time to be part of the electrical industry, with rapidly increasing opportunities for skilled professionals.

The UK government last year set a target of building 1 million homes by 2020, resulting in increasing pressure on trade industries to fill the quota. This was announced to meet estimates of the shortfall in the country’s housing needs.

However, energising a new house has become increasingly complex. Gone are the days of simply installing a phone line, running a handful of main cables, fixing a TV aerial and wiring up the doorbell. Now, there is an increased demand for smart technology such as home automation systems, power and data supply solutions, customisable consumer units and everything in between.

Regulations have moved on, too, demanding smoke detectors, setting ‘special locations’ such as kitchens and bathrooms, and requiring you to alert building authorities before embarking on a project.

The ambitious target of 1 million new homes by 2020 and the adoption of smart technologies has led to a surge in demand for professionals with the required skill set and know-how.

Smart tech means smart business

Add to this the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and estimates that the number of connected devices will exceed 50 billion by 2020. The rise of IoT beckons a brave new world of connected devices, smart cities and homes, and ultimately better living. The ability of devices to connect to each other and feed important information back to us should lay the path for a smarter, more holistic way of managing and interacting with our environments, where continual improvements and efficiencies can be gained.

New IoT technologies are emerging that enable quick and easy personalisation of energy management and lighting settings, either through devices in the home or remotely, via apps on a smartphone. This means that switching lights on and off, controlling shutters and adjusting temperatures is no longer restricted to on-site push-buttons or touch panels. Home management systems now act as self-learning tools that note the behaviour of occupants and adjust environments accordingly, bringing a new level of comfort to living spaces while reducing energy costs.

The simplicity of IoT provides the opportunity for electrical installers to grow their business by moving into areas that were previously seen as mystifying or overly complicated. Smart heating controls are a good example, allowing an electrician to upgrade a residential heating controls system and have it operational and connected to the internet within 15 minutes. We are seeing an increase in intuitive products, signifying that the days of time-consuming and complicated installations are gone.

The IoT is revolutionising what homes can do for their owners. Architects, engineers and electricians are bringing connectivity to homes through the latest solutions. These technologies connect a wide variety of devices, allowing home owners to control everything from lighting and temperature to entertainment systems — to create a perfect environment for every moment. They let us monitor and manage our homes to maximise energy efficiency and lower energy bills, either locally or remotely. By embracing IoT to make homes safer and more comfortable — by enabling connected, smart spaces — it is helping people achieve a quality of life that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.

It’s an exciting time for electrical installers as the proliferation of IoT promises greater innovation. To stay ahead, installers will need comprehensive knowledge of how IoT is transforming the sector to identify extra business opportunities and thereby strengthen the industry.

Bridging the divide

To keep pace with the IoT revolution not only will the UK require an increase in the number of electricians, but the workforce will need to be better supported to cope with the evolving skills needed.

Schneider Electric recently expanded its newly titled Electrician Partner Programme to do just that. The scheme is dedicated to supporting electricians and is free for professionals working in the residential and commercial lighting sectors.

With its continuous development of Partner benefits, promotions and digital business tools, the programme helps Partners solve challenges such as preserving the skills and knowledge required for emerging technology trends, to evolving the marketing needs of a new business as well as maintaining those of an established one.

Trend indicators are positive and show there is a great opportunity for the electrical contracting sector, and that is before taking into consideration the fact that electricians are currently the best paid tradespeople in the UK. According to the Office of National Statistics the average salary for an electrician has risen to £30,172 since 2014, a 4.6% increase.

Attractive salaries, business opportunities and widespread industry requirements mean there has never been a better time to learn a trade, be your own boss and take advantage of a broadening gap in the market.