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[ Interview: Steve Bratt ]

The reason for our existence, fundamentally, is also to help businesses to thrive; we should continue to focus on making our members’ businesses successful and profitable

In the current climate, will there be enough spent on training to enable the UK to meet carbon targets? The ECA really needs to play its part to tackle the potential skill shortage. There is a sense that this skills shortage has been coming for a long time now, but there’s always been a way of managing it. However, now there is a demographic situation, where

older electricians start to leave the industry and there’s not the numbers of qualified people to replace them. The industry has not been training people on anything like the scale that it used to; there’s also been the change in working practices – with increased agency labour being used – and, of course, the impact of the recession. There is a real danger that we could be sleep-walking into a big problem. Then what could happen is that we see businesses from

other sectors and other countries diversifying and coming into our market because they can see the opportunities and are investing in skills.

How can we address this issue? Is there a way around it – and is the new government taking notice? They’re making the right noises, but we’re in the very early stages and we need to see some substance here. Again, we’re hoping that, if they put this in the context of the carbon reduction agenda, if they can see that actually there is not the skills base to deliver this as a long-term target, then they may take this more seriously. But I think it is an issue, at the end of the day, for industry

to address – and we need to strive as an industry to find ways of dealing with it. It would help for sure if there were, in government procurement processes, some recognition or reward of those who were undertaking training in some way – using the public sector procurement, in particular, to incentivise the provision of future skilled labour.

Is the ECA doing enough to make consumers and clients aware of what membership represents? One of the things that the ECA really needs to do is to get clients and consumers to really appreciate the quality that ECA members actually represent. They’re technically competent, they have requirements governing their code of practice, etc., they have good solid business processes in place, and, of course, they receive the support of the association. And, to provide some confidence, the ECA guarantees their work. We need to get clients and consumers to understand that, when they’re procuring an ECA member, they are procuring a quality business that has the backing of its trade association. There is process governing the way our members behave

as contractors. We guarantee and support their work; the work is guaranteed up to £50,000 (or £100,000 for multiple contracts). Also, should there be any problem with a business before the work is completed, we would step in to ensure that the work is finished. So it’s a strong endorsement. We will certainly be doing more to raise the profile of the ECA more broadly with specifiers, clients and consumers.

With the new coalition government established, what else will the ECA be looking for from them? We’ll also be encouraging the deregulation agenda. It’s something the coalition is quite keen on. In fact, we have

34 ECA Today Autumn 2010

made a number of recommendations to them about rationalising legislation on areas such as health and safety. There is a place for some regulation, but not too much

of it. Our plea to them would be to understand when it works and when it doesn’t work. But when it is introduced, it needs to be enforced. Having legislation in place – but not complied with – is difficult because our members are the kind of businesses who, as principled professional businesses, will comply. And that can create an uneven playing field, because those that don’t comply get an unfair advantage. So our call to government is to continue to deregulate – but in areas where it is necessary, let’s have effective compliance. Related to that, and procurement, is pre-qualification. It

is widely accepted across the whole construction sector that a significant amount of money is wasted on procurement processes involving qualification and pre-qualification. There is some really good work being done by the ECA and others at the moment on harmonising the qualifications standards. Again, we’d make a plea that these are adopted and enforced, particularly within public sector procurement processes.

When you’re sitting here in 13 years’ time… do you think much will change over the next decade or so? Like every other sector, the rate of change just continues to increase. And, therefore, the nature of businesses within them – including trade associations – need to adapt at a similar rate. I see the next decade as a period of quite radical change. I would see the electrical contractor of the future looking quite different, and that the range of skills that they would possess, the range of areas of work that they get involved in, will have expanded. If you look at some of the technologies around at the moment, a traditional electrical contractor doing general electrical contracting will, I believe, look quite different. Also, I’d hope that the commercial landscape will have

changed, that we’d have much more effective procurement and payment practices. It would be good if we also had a more market-led and not legislative-led environment, where businesses that do a good job and are innovative can prosper. And a measure of our success in that period would be

that we would have achieved the ambition of helping our members to survive the current tough period, helping them position themselves to thrive as that period ends, and then, in the subsequent years, helping them to prosper.

It’s a unique time to become head of the association, don’t you think? It is a strange time, in many ways. There are mixed messages: that it is tough and it is likely to get tougher, and public sector cuts could have an immense effect on the construction sector. But there are positive signs around in other areas. There are some big infrastructure projects coming up, and as we have discussed, the green agenda is driving opportunities. As we go close to the 2050 carbon reduction targets – and fail to make a great impact on them – the pressure on delivering them is likely to increase. So those that get ahead of the game will put themselves in a good position – hence the comment about how fortune will favour the brave. I hope many of our members will look at the green agenda and decide to profit from it.

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