Making Electrical Apprentices Count

Apprenticeships have been a feature of businesses for centuries, and we have certainly reaped the benefits here at Watkinscole Electrical Contractors. We make it our duty to give people a foot up into the electrical engineering sector. Both directors at Watkinscole completed their five years’ electrical apprenticeships through local colleges (many moons ago) and knew the value they can bring to the student, the company and sector. Here we shine the spotlight on the Apprenticeship programme we provide that has enabled us to enter one of our star-apprentices into the NICEIC National Apprentice Of The Year Competition 2019. Read on to discover the value apprenticeships can provide and why your business should consider including apprentices in your recruitment strategy.

A Background to Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships had existed long before the government created the National Apprenticeship Scheme in 2009. It is based on the principle of connecting younger people (the student/apprentice) with more experienced experts (the Master) in their field. The Master teaches the students the tricks of the trade by showing them how to perform the role while also providing answers to questions and information sources that will help the student become a competent professional. Apprenticeships typically lasted 3 to 7 years. People who complete an apprenticeship reached the “journeyman” or professional certification level of competence. Over time, through practice and mentoring, the apprentice becomes an expert – a Master of the trade in their own right. Today’s formalised apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job learning and often some accompanying study (typically off-site classroom work, reading and assignments). Another difference between modern apprenticeships and the long gone past is the fact that there is no age limit today. Consequently, even 60 years old can participate in apprentice programmes. Apprenticeships offer many benefits to students, businesses and society. The chance to learn from experts while practising in real-world environments and earning at the same time is invaluable for learners, where arguably, classroom learning alone is unable to give the rounded skills and knowledge for competent practice. Although businesses can no longer pay apprentices in food and lodgings, as was common practice in medieval times, companies like Watkinscole benefit from having more staff that typically cost less in salary than qualified tradespeople. More importantly, by we can train and develop people into the values of our company – our way of doing things so to speak.

Apprenticeships at Watkinscole

We have developed policies and processes for our apprentices at Watkinscole to have the solid foundation required to become competent electrical engineers over five years. We currently have three young apprentices and two older guys doing the apprenticeship training with us in partnership with Carshalton College & Nescot College. Typical placement is one day’s learning per week at college and four days on site with us. Our programme is a good mix that allows the student to gains valuable on-site training coupled with the technical and Health and safety elements from the college days. Students must complete the first three years including successfully passing the college modules, after which the student becomes an ‘Improver’ who is then ready for the final two years of training on-site for five days a week. These final two years are essential for the growth of the student because an excellent electrical company will, slowly under strict supervision, allow the individual to work on their own. The ‘independent practice’ stage is often where you will see great leaps in confidence and ability, which is satisfying for the improver and the employer. We see the many benefits that our Apprenticeship program brings to Watkinscole. Gains include us paying back to the people who helped us get started on our journey to build the business we are today; getting the fresh perspectives that only people new in the industry can bring; having a more engaged and committed staff team, and giving something back to our community. Jake Thomas who completed his initial 3-month probation period at Watkinscole and has recently started in the second year of his electrical apprenticeship has given us the bonus of getting nominated for the 2019 NICEIC and ELECSA Electrical Apprentice of the Year Competition. This feedback from the college and the team on-site shows that he is a worthy entrant: “The college is happy with his progress, and his studies are going well. All the feedback from his work on site is that he “is enthusiastic, hardworking and uses his initiative. He is professional, punctual and polite and a popular member of the team. He has the potential to be a good electrician and is worthy of this nomination”. Jake’s nomination for the award helps us in ways that you will find out later. First, let’s look at what the competition involves for Jake. NICEIC ELESTRA Award - Making Apprentices Count blog https://watkinscole.com

The Apprentice of the Year Award

The Electrical Apprentice of the Year Competition is open to all apprentice students to apply. The competition is not only an opportunity for students to prove their knowledge and abilities but also a chance to win some fantastic prizes when they get through each of the stages.
  • Stage 1: The first stage is an online exam open to all students comprising of 40 questions relating to electrical installations.
  • Stage 2: The top-performing 20% from stage one will go to the second stage of the contest – a written 1½ hour exam that will happen at several locations across the UK. The top eight performing students will then go through to the Grand Final.
  • Stage 3: The final will take place on 4th June 2019 at the headquarters of competition sponsor, Scolmore Group. The eight finalists will complete several practical tests and tasks under the watchful eye of Darren Staniforth, Jake Green and Tony Cable before announcing the winner of the 2019 NICEIC and ELECSA Electrical Apprentice of the Year at a special awards ceremony on the same evening.

Benefits of the award

I would be lying if I said that Jake competing is enough because there are juicy rewards for the students, the college and employer of the eventual winner of the Apprentice Of The Year. These are the main prizes The Eight finalists will each receive an iPad, goody bags as well as the following prizes:
  • 1st Prize £2000 holiday voucher
  • 2nd Prize £750 holiday voucher
  • 3rd Prize £250 holiday voucher
The employer of the winning apprentice will also receive a year’s free registration with NICEIC and ELECSA, while the college that taught the eventual winner will also receive an additional £1,000 worth of Scolmore products.

Moving forward

We are excited about the prospect of having our Apprentice recognised by the two major electrical governing bodies in the UK not least because winning would provide some validity that our apprenticeship programme provides value for our learners and the broader electrical industry. Who knows what additional benefits having a winning apprenticeship will bring to a business? Now is a great time to take on apprentices with the government policy and support available. In the meantime, let’s wish Jake good luck.