Belfast Telegraph

Lack of sparks hits Co Down electrical firm's plan to grow

By John Mulgrew

A Co Down electrical firm has said plans to double its workforce have been scuppered because it can't find enough skilled electricians.

AJC Electrical in Newcastle says it has "never been busier" and wants to double its workforce from 25 to 50, but cannot find workers. The family firm says the financial crash led to a collapse in the training of tradespeople, leaving a shortfall in young electricians.

Director Michael Clarke said there needs to be "fresh blood" in order to keep the industry going. "The biggest thing is, there aren't very many training to be sparks (electricians), so there is no supply.

"Many have been heading to work in Great Britain and Australia, now the whole thing is finding its feet again. Wages are going to go through the roof. People are poaching staff and throwing money to get them. In construction, there's not a big loyalty, and it's the nature of the beast."

Mr Clarke says he employs electricians who are aged between 18 and 40. "There are always going to be guys around, but it's finding well-trained staff. Supply is the biggest thing at the moment.

"There are some cases where we don't bother pricing (for a contract) because we don't have the staff."

He said fewer young men and women were getting into the trade as family members may have suffered a severe lack of work during tougher times. "I think that had happened historically following the credit crunch. Colleges aren't doing the same, and the incentives are not in place for us to take on apprentices.

"I have to pay them more than minimum wage, and pay for them to go to tech. We need new blood, there's no supply. And there needs to be supply."

He said he now only gets applications from two or three people for each advertisement, whereas once have would have been 60 to 70.

AJC Electrical, which was founded by Mr Clarke's father Tony in 1985, counts a number of top hotels, including the Culloden, among its clients.

Tina McKenzie, managing director of employment firm PeoplePlusNI, said that with construction "having shrunk significantly during the economic downturn, we have seen training providers move away from these areas, which of course causes a problem now that the local construction sector is finally seeing some much-needed growth".

"Employers and recruiters also know that careers guidance given to our most skilled and promising young people focuses on white collar, professional roles," she said.

But the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) said its new apprenticeships strategy, 'Securing our Success,' was aimed at ensuring the economy had the skills to grow.

DEL said that the most recent figures - for July 2015 - showed there were currently 75 students on an electrical distribution and transmission engineering apprenticeship, 21 on an electrical power engineering course, and 524 on an electro-technical programme.

Belfast Telegraph