Over the next few months, I am going to detail my journey in the electrical industry. I want to share the things I have done, how I did them and what barriers stood in my way. I have been asked why I want to do this and the answer is simple, our industry, in the time I have worked in it, has declined in my opinion at one end. When I say at one end I mean the coal face, those getting up early and working hard are feeling the change more than those sipping tea in the comfort of a conference room in the Home Office.
A couple of points I want to raise at this point which I feel are important.
I am going to be very honest, it needs to be. If you agree with the content, please don’t shy away from agreeing with it. It’s more important for you to confirm the content as this will ultimately lead to a change that HAS to happen.
I apologise to those people I am going to call out in these blogs. I won’t use your name directly but I will detail the things that happened.
So what are we going to cover, see below:
- This blog which is all about where my journey started and college.
- My first employment as an electrician – its an eye-opener.
- Redundancy and self-employment
- My first role as a Qualifying Supervisor – let’s expose what we all do prior to our assessments.
- From sparky to compliance manager – this was my shock entrance to social housing and my trip away from our trusted wiring regulations.
- Seeing the industry flaws opening up in front of me and then stepping into a different world of the electrical industry. The email, the meeting and then a national working group.
- My application to JPEL64 – in detail
- The future of our industry – my view and my opinion.
Let’s get to it…..
I had recently left the police force and decided I needed a complete industry shift from the security field to something I was interested in. I remember sitting with my dad in 2004 (ish) debating what I should do, it was a bad time in my life as I felt I had no direction at all and that my life would always be security. My dad mentioned that when I was a child I used to take things apart and then put them back together again, apparently this annoyed him because I did it to stuff that wasn’t broken. Stereos, VCRs and other electrical things were my chosen items. After a lengthy alcoholic fuelled conversation with my dad, I decided that’s exactly what I will do.
So how do you get into the electronics industry? How much money do I need to start with? Is there someone I can talk to about it? A friend of mine who owned a construction company in Sunderland mentioned to me that you have to do an electrical qualification at college before you step into Electronics Engineering etc. He said he would get someone to call me with details of exactly what I needed to do. A couple of days later I received a call from Bob (that’s not his real name), Bob told me that I was too old to become an electrician and that people who go through the route of an electrician in college with no on-site experience are ‘s***e’. I felt like I had hit a barrier and that I needed to go back to the drawing board but then I thought, ‘but it’s experience, surely experience is something I can control’. I decided I would attend a meeting at Leeds College to find out what I needed to do to enrol and more importantly, how much will it cost.
I remember I had a meeting with the head of the college around August time, I researched electronics so much that I went into the meeting knowing more than they would probably teach me. I was ready to blow them away with my passion and determination to be the best student they would ever teach to be an electronics engineer. The chap sat me down in a room with a couple of other people and asked me the following questions:
1. Why do you want to be an electrician?
2. How would you pay for the course?
3. Can I have your assurances that you’ll complete the course and not walk away as this impacts the money the college gets?
Wait, I don’t want to be an electrician, how do I answer that, I need to be an electrician before I can be in electronics, do I lie, should I just say I want to be in electronics and have to do this course to get there?? I was very confused but then I remembered something my dad said to me once, so I answered with the following;
“Site managers on any big building sites are always an electrician, that’s the hardest qualifications to get and the most respected. Sir, I like a challenge and I don’t like to fail, I have also wasted a few years doing something I don’t love, I understand that more now that I’ve matured. I am here now because I want job satisfaction, I believe electrics is that”
Note that I changed electronics to electrics. Don’t judge me.
I was offered a position on the course, to start in September. Oh, and it would cost £4K, of which I didn’t have, but I did have 4 weeks to get it. I also had to work out how I was going to go to college for 4 days a week and where I would get money to live?
I borrowed the £4k and I worked out a way to pay my way through college. I would work in security as a doorman and work 5 nights a week whilst training in college 4 days. The next barrier is how I get experience whilst learning the things I am going to be taught. Where will I find the time?
I remember the first day I started at the college, the class had about 30 guys in it and we all kept very quiet and listened to what we were about to learn. The tutor started the whole thing with a story about being an electrician, it went a little like this –
‘Once you get through this course and start working in the industry, you’ll find people call you all the time to ask you questions about electrics. The main one will be that they’ve bought a new cooker and installed it but it keeps tripping in the fuse board. You learn more about the location of the cookers specific labels with kW rating, than you will about electrics’
He briefly touched on the power triangle but it went over all our heads.
So we got going, the first part was all about Health and Safety and the responsibilities bestowed upon everyone. I am looking through my old training notes and spotted a one-liner that says ‘Everyone is responsible, why so difficult to understand’. We looked at the Regulations specific to electricians and how to apply them properly. The tutor explained that we will practice the things we talk about one day a week in the practical classes and that we need all our PPE. He explained that we need tools too, and that is when a salesman from the local Electrical Wholesalers appeared to talk to us about buying tools from his place. I had only been in a classroom for a few minutes and already the sales had begun. The college and the wholesaler had an agreement and a list of products we HAD to buy!!!
Anyway, if I describe every day we would be reading this for about a year. The course seemed to pick up momentum and the content started to sink in. The reason for this is I managed to speak to a number of electrical contractors around Yorkshire and the North East who would let me work with them (free of charge I might add, sometimes bought me lunch) to get experience. I would tell them what I was learning and they would put me somewhere where that discipline was being delivered. This really really helped as I stepped into this journey remembering Bob’s comments ‘no onsite experience means s***e electricians’. I was not going to be one of these. I want to say I was very lucky but I literally visited every electrical company for miles asking for help through my apprenticeship, I played the numbers game, there was no luck in it just hard work and determination.
So I attended college Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I worked as a doorman Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I volunteer Friday, Saturday and Sunday. FOR TWO YEARS. The hardest days were always Monday and Tuesday because I finished work at 2 on Sunday night and 4 on Monday night (student night) but still had to be at college at 8:30. It was great if I got away on time as I would get a few hours sleep, when something happened I sometimes left at 5ish. There was this one time where something serious happened and I went straight from the club to the college and had to get changed in the toilets, not sure any technical guff went in that day!!!
The hardest parts of college were the principles of electrotechnology. Ohms law, adiabatic, power triangles, power factor, volt drop, cable sizing etc. The reason it was hard was because the electricians I worked with outside of college would tell me once you learn them and pass the test you’ll probably never use them again. Everything is spelt out for you so you don’t need to worry about that…. Working on site was more a laugh than technical nonce. Screwing me under floorboards for a few hours, creating home alone type boobie traps with buckets of water or purposely electrocuting me with live cables in sockets were the norm. I know this still happens now and the carelessness is crazy but it just seems to be the way on site.
I remember this one time working with Eric (that’s not his real name either), we got a phone call on a Saturday from the company owner asking us to attend a friend’s factory as the office sockets had tripped. When we arrived Eric asked me to locate the fuse board supplying the office. The factory was massive, enormous automatic shutters at the front and a big factor with the office built at the back. The 3 phase board was by the front door and in it, on one of the breakers, there were the words “Office Supply 10mm”. Coming out the top of the CU was, surprisingly, a 10mm cable which was taped to piece of conduit. As I followed the cable down the factory it was evident that the tape and the conduit were the competent persons chosen method of installation. I spoke to Eric who advised the owner that the supply to the office needed to be “bigger’ because of the cable length and that it would need to be installed correctly. The response was as followed;
‘Listen son, if you want to keep your job just get it to work and then we’ll both be happy. I can’t be bothered to listen to a clever arse spark who knows everything. When I put that cable in it worked’
I was expecting Eric to walk away but he obviously needed the job. It was at this point a very interesting lesson occurred.
“Ryan (that’s actually my name, no need to hide it), take all the tape off the cable and then cable tie it to the cold water pipe above. Tie it every few inch and make sure its flat against the pipe. I’ll be back in 10 minutes”
When Eric returned he brought in some insulation for pipework. After we’d cable tied the cable completely he put the insulation around and told the owner that would probably work for a while. I would love to go back and check to see if it has!!!!
After 2 years I obtained my level 2 and decided I was ready to start working as a spark. I was qualified so why wouldn’t people snap my hand off. I tried to apply for some jobs and was told I wouldn’t get a job if I didn’t have my 16th edition. That’s all they asked for. So I paid £540 pound for the 16th edition course in Wakefield and obtained my level 3 in the Requirements for Electrical Installations!!!!
I applied to a company for the position of a Maintained Electrician covering insurance work across Yorkshire…… and so it began.
To be continued……..