Electrical Blog 06 – Our industry flaws opening up right in front of me – The email, the meeting and then the next steps to what I thought was the way forward
I have been writing about my journey in the electrical industry. I’m trying to be very PC but things are obviously about to change, I want everyone to know exactly what I’ve been through so that they too can make an informed decision about the direction our industry is pointing and the things we may or may not need to do to influence positive improvements. Everything I write in these blogs is factual and can be backed up with emails and other communications.
As always there are a couple of points I want to raise at this point which I feel are very 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, simply like it. Its 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 between us.
So what are we going to cover, see below:
1. Where my journey started and college.
2. My first employment as an electrician – its an eye-opener.
3. Redundancy and self-employment
4. My first role as a Qualifying Supervisor – let’s expose what we all do prior to our assessments.
5. From sparky to compliance manager – this was my shock entrance to social housing and my trip away from our trusted wiring regulations.
6. This blog – 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.
7. My application to JPEL64 – in detail
8. The future of our industry – my view and my opinion.
Where did it all start and how have I ended up where I am now. Those who know me understand that I would bend over backwards to help anyone as long as I felt and knew that what I do or did was to benefit someone or something. I’ve always been like this, unfortunately there are some people who see this as threatening to a business brand and these people are extremely influential in our industry. The next two blogs are cutting, they explain things that have happened that you won’t believe because it doesn’t seem logical and is a blatant attempt at protecting a brand as opposed to influencing an industry.
It all started with an email which I sent on the 18th February 2013 at 12:01, the email was to the postmaster at IET and detailed a number of concerns I had with the industry. I explained that I worked for a Social Housing provider and that over the last 2 months I had challenged our contractor and subcontractor a number of times on matters around the interpretation of Wiring Regulations and how this was impacting the public purse I was responsible for. I go on to explain that the NICEIC, Electrical Safety First and Electrical Wholesale companies to name a few were not giving clear guidance or ‘over-interpreting’ and that this was being used against me when I challenged what I wanted in the Authority.
The example I gave was frequency of inspection and the need for us, as an industry, to have trust in the competence of engineers so to believe the frequency they give. A standard 10 years or 5 years is not assurance that the systems are being managed effectively yet the above-named companies are pulling companies on assessment for putting a frequency that doesn’t marry up to Guidance notes on the initial frequency.
The last couple of paragraphs had the following statements;
‘The industries relax attitude is very annoying’
‘I believe people are not speaking up when they clearly need to’
‘I feel we should be doing more to change law’
‘We constantly battle whether its right or wrong to fit a device that could save a life’
‘Constantly met with resistance’
‘When are we going to be able to throw the Wiring Regulations at sparks who kill people’
I end the email with;
‘You are the Institute of Engineering and Technology, your voice is much louder than mine and your actions much stronger. All I am asking for is a better understanding and a safer UK’
When I clicked send I didn’t expect to get a response. When I received a phone call from one of their technical experts a few days later I was shocked. The chap I spoke to was so passionate about guidance and doing the right thing was inspiring. I won’t embarrass him by telling you all his name but unfortunately, he no longer works for the IET, which is probably the worst thing that could have happened to them. Let’s just call him Ric.
Ric invited me to London to Birdcage Walk where the IET were temporarily housed whilst their Savoy Place building was being refurbished. I accepted not fully understanding where or what I was walking into but knew this was a step in the right direction. At this point, I thought I was just going to meet the IET… how wrong was I?
I booked my train ticket and time off work for the day. I was really happy because I got a first-class ticket really cheap and when the day came I travelled to London in luxury drinking far too much and eating about 5 apples!!!
I’m still not a massive fan of London as I like my countryside living, no offence to anyone who lives there. I remember arriving in Kings Cross and then walking down to the underground station. I was, and still am really, the person who stands in front of the map trying to work out what the colours mean and how to get to a particular station. I had to get to Westminster and then walk from there but sat here writing this I can’t remember what route I went, probably via Euston.
I do remember when I got off at Westminster I walked out right in front of Big Ben and whilst walking through all the people noticed a little man trying to get something out of someone’s bag. I just grabbed him and the girl turned around and was very thankful. Welcome to London Ryan!!!!
So I arrived at my meeting with the IET at Birdcage Walk. I believe the building is actually for Mechanical Engineers but they allowed us electrical bods in there for a little bit. I met a lovely lady at the front door who took me upstairs and then asked me to sit outside the room. She then said something that worried the hell out of me.
“We really appreciate you coming to London Ryan, the group in the meeting are all industry leading organisations and are keen to understand what you meant in your email. You can’t come in just yet as the meeting is strictly confidential at the moment but we will call you when they’re ready”
Can you imagine? I’m sat outside a room where I thought I was going in to talk to the IET and I have just been told the ‘big wigs’ were debating something that was confidential. Do I run or do I go in and spill the beans? I sat there for 20 minutes debating what to do and what to say but decided its time to open the door to some real issues in our industry. I truly believe in the Iceberg of Ignorance in all sectors and companies, if this room had the senior figures in it they’ll all be told nothing is up because the management levels below will be managing the risk. Let’s do this….
I walked into the room and was met with a big table full of people staring at me. The group was the Technical Advisory Panel and Steering Group (TAPS). If you google it, you will see what they were all about. The group was IET, Engineering Council, ECA, ECS/JIB, Summitskills, Gatesby and Unite the Union. All senior bods and CEOs. Everyone introduced themselves and then I was asked to give a summary of my email.
Competence, accountability, trust, Regulations, standards, enforcement, interpretation, attitude, experience, subdivisions of the industry all summed up with the comment ‘What even is an Electrician?’
Towards the end of the meeting I was asked what I would do to change our industry, what would be the answer from my perspective? The answer to this was simple then and is simple now, it has never changed. We need Individual Accountability for Electricians, a register that isn’t governed by people who argue about business models and assurance for consumers that the person working on their system is competent to do this and has some kind of recognition for this.
After the meeting, we had some food and ‘mingled’ with each other. It was really interesting as the JIB and ECS spoke to me and said they already had the solution that I was after to which I responded they hadn’t, if they had the solution why are we talking about the problem. I then spoke to the ECA chap who was also the ECS chap (confusing right) about what the ECS card means to consumers, my honest opinion, it’s a Health and Safety card. The only organisation who ignored me was the Senior Chap from Unite everyone else had a good old chat and even looked at some EICRs I had taken from a private property in Liverpool that I was asked to look at. Initially, they all thought they were fake, surely it’s not that bad!!!!
So anyway, the TAPS project seemed to go really quiet and I thought they buried my comments and just moved away from me. They did push a Guidance Document for Building Control which specified minimum technical competence, I think if you google ‘IET Guidance for Local Authority Building Control’ you’ll find it. They also did a lot of research into the industry and reviewed different models used by competent person schemes. I also understand there was a slight disagreement (this means someone’s business model would have been impacted) and so some of the group left and set up their own TESP group (Electro technical Skills Partnership – which means it should be ETSP actually).
I was involved and the IET kept in touch and then asked if I could help get a group of clients together to discuss the issues I was raising. Maybe just to check what I was saying was true!!
We arranged a meeting in Leeds on the 16th April 2015 where I managed to get around 50 Local Authorities and Contractors in the room to talk about the following:
Licence to Practice
Employer Recruitment / Competency Issues
Increased remedial work and unplanned costs
Lack of Individual Accountability
QS model and other Competent Person Scheme models
Current Competence monitoring (which was non-existent)
At this meeting, I was asked to give a presentation on what I did in my role and the issues I faced. I was also asked to talk about my original ideas of a national register, individual accountability, next steps and the SELECT Committee interview I had talking about QS models and the industry. This was the first time I had been in front of a large audience who were mainly quiet. There was a couple of guys I met here who I still talk to regularly (#e5 !!).
Since the Leeds meeting, I have attended a number of meetings in London and Stevenage where I have discussed how to marry competence of Electricians to the Engineering Councils UKSpec A&B and a national bespoke standard for Electrician’s (EngTech Elec). In my opinion, this was and still is the best move we could have for our industry as it gives people the ability to aim towards greatness in their chosen field, an individual accountability model which is enforceable is the best move we can all back. They can be assessed by their peers or a company in their chosen field and can confidently state they’re competent in the areas they work. It also has the potential to give the consumer assurances that the work has been done by someone who can do it.
It has been hard defining things as it frustrating when people challenge things because it impacts or dilutes what they do. An example is when we tried to define the qualifications someone would need to qualify automatically for the standard we used apprenticeship but a company said we should use JIB recognised apprenticeship. The truth is you can drink a Coca-Cola drink in a Pepsi glass and you won’t die, honest. They would both like you to use their products but does it really matter!!??
So, where are we at now? I am not sure, it would seem the industry leaders have spat their dummy out as a national register or a licence to practice would create a problem for them so they’ve gone all out to prevent it. In fact, these are real solutions so some have created their own quickly because Northern Ireland already has a solution for one part of the issue.
We were so close but it would seem the fingers are starting to release…..
As I have been involved with the IET for a number of years it was obvious they understand my aim was to improve the industry and help with public safety issues. I represented my employer at the time but have since left and become a consultant on the group (I don’t get paid and fund the travel etc. myself). I moved over to another organisation which made my Local Authority and Social Housing reach much bigger and so the IET suggested I apply to be a member of the committee that writes the Regulations we work to in the Electrical Industry, I wasn’t fully aware of the committee or what was involved so did a bit of research and thought it would be fantastic to have a representative from the Social Housing sector as there currently isn’t one…… the next blog will detail what happened. Let’s just say I have pulled my application as it was embarrassing how it was dealt with and the people who approached me unnecessarily from all angles to prevent my voice being heard.
To be continued…