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BSIA Briefing

by Brian Sims

There are a reported 30,000 skilled engineers required in the fire and security industry to meet customer demand. This problem will worsen over the next five years (according to the Government), where the engineering sector as a whole will face a skills shortage of over 200,000. David Scott searches for a solution to a vexing problem facing the security sector.

With an industry turnover (in the UK) of £1.5 billion, and wherein over 10,000 people are employed in a range of roles, something must be done about the skills shortage. An ageing workforce and excellent career progression opportunities display a definite need to recruit new talent. The majority of people coming into the industry stem from other industries – electricians, data communications, semi-skilled trades – and then retrain to gain the required skills and knowledge. This actually means that they’re closer to retirement and will again leave the industry with a skills shortage in years to come.

How is it that only 20% of new entrants into our industry come straight from school or college, equalling only a couple of hundred each year across the whole of the UK? Reports show that 700 apprentices are currently enrolled on fire and security apprenticeship programmes, but this number isn’t comparable considering we require thousands of apprentices to be enrolled each year.

This is where Skills for Security has actively tried to step in and fill the gap along with many others. Immediate and long-term goals include a widened participation in which skilled training is more accessible to young people. We need to work together as an industry to raise the standard of apprentices and engineers throughout the UK.

Widening participation

Not many young people know what it means to work as a fire and security engineer. No-one ever grows up and wants to work in this industry. It’s sad to see, as this industry is full of opportunity and growth and forever changing, whether you focus on the implementation of new standards and Codes of Practice or changes in technology with the PSTN switch-off and CCTV facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence on the rise. The fire and security industry should be a career of choice and not just a fall-back position.

A recent and detailed report highlighted that 58% of 11 to 14-year olds felt that they didn’t have enough knowledge on apprenticeships. That being so, we asked ourselves how best we could reach young people to share our wisdom on the career opportunities out there.

A competitive attitude whether learned or genetic (depending on what psychology theory you follow) is human nature – something that most of us are brought up with. This year, Skills for Security helped to organise the WorldSkillsUK Electronic Security Systems Competition as Competition Organisation Partners. WorldSkills is a trade competition for every trade imaginable. The three-day event sees the best of the best compete and the winners announced as WorldSkills champions. A fantastic spectacle which creates such a positive experience for those involved and attracts over 70,000 young children from across the UK that are interested in securing a career, an apprenticeship or learning about new skills.

To put this in perspective, if we (as an industry) can attract just 1% of the young people who attend WorldSkills each year, we’ll double the number of apprentices already enrolled on courses throughout the UK. How’s that for widening the participation? Not to mention a big leap when it comes to bridging the skills gap.

Making training accessible

The recruitment and enrolment process are key aspects which need to be maintained for all new apprentices. No-one likes confusing or rigid processes, masses of paperwork and time-consuming exercises to try to determine the skill set of new recruits when it can remain flexible. Trust me when I say that flexibility is the key to accessibility.

At Skills for Security, we’ve found that offering a free of charge service to those who wish to recruit an apprentice and actively sourcing the correct candidate for an organisation goes a long way. Particularly as this makes both sides happier in the long run as each organisation/candidate is individual in their own right.

Three main websites attract the right talent: indeed.co.uk, the Government apprenticeship website and Apprentices 4 Fire and Security. Application filtration ensures the candidate meets the criteria agreed in the job specification before final interview recommendations are made. Assessment days, whereby candidates are invited to attend a stringent one-day assessment, allow qualified fire and security staff to test the knowledge, understanding and skills of each of the candidates before recommendations of employment are made.

Currently, in order for us to attain the goal of making training accessible a reality, we’re working on two key partnerships. The first is with larger colleges that are keen to be involved in fire and security training, but don’t have the resources or experience. By creating partnerships with these colleges, we will then see them deliver as much of the programme as they can, including Health and Safety, electrical principals and basic installation. Specialist training, however, requires us to send qualified fire and security tutors to deliver the learning, offering the colleges staff to join the lessons for Continuing Professional Development.

The second partnership is with employers who would prefer not to send their apprentices across the country for training. We will deliver a bespoke apprenticeship training package in-house to those business with ten or more apprentices. Training can be developed to suit a specific business’ requirements, thereby ensuring that every training day is unique.

These two innovative partnerships are changing the way in which training is delivered throughout the UK and are proving a success for those involved. Why? Simple. The learning is accessible.

Raising the standard

Skills for Security is passionate about the industry and I’m passionate about the industry. We want to not just be seen to make a difference, but actually further develop the industry and the 160 apprentices we’ve enrolled on our apprenticeship programme. All of our tutors are fully qualified fire and security engineers (which is quite uncommon), with each harbouring 15-plus years of experience in installing, commissioning and maintaining fire and security systems. They’re also full-time and employed directly by Skills for Security.

These staff members are committed to delivering the best training in the industry and aim to create and deliver high quality learning and teaching throughout the UK. This has been evident in recent months, with winners at the Engineers of Tomorrow competition in June and a second place at WorldSkillsUK this month.

There’s a big demand for accessible high quality training and we want to help support other training centres out there. Even with the many years of experience of delivering fire and security training to industry, we appreciate that in order to reach all of our goals we cannot do so alone. That’s why we have an open door policy where we welcome any training centre personnel to our centre to observe our teaching, share our materials and our schedule.

We believe that if high quality training is made more accessible then more employers will support the apprenticeship programme. Therefore, we’re another step closer to finding and creating the skilled workforce for this sector that we so desperately need.

Never too late

David Scott

David Scott

Young people can choose to either go to university or complete an apprenticeship. There are too many of the younger generation going to university because they feel pressured to do so. They can choose subjects they may not use in later life. Perhaps they just want to experience the student lifestyle. Later, they may wish they knew more about other options open to them. An apprenticeship offers career-focused training, promoting the skills we can teach and also lessening the burden of student debt.

It’s not too late to recruit an apprentice. The Government has an agenda to place more people into skilled careers and has supported this desire with the allocation of funding. Funding is currently available for people of any age from any background and, for their part, employers can receive funding support of 95%-100% of the cost of training paid for. Government support for apprenticeship training may be short and something which we will watch as the agenda at Westminster becomes clearer.

The message to security businesses is simple. Recruit an apprentice now to create a sustainable pipeline of skilled engineers for your organisation that will see you meet customer demand not just for now, but also into the future. When businesses and enterprises come together, young people realise that this is the way jobs are created. It really is a win-win for all.

David Scott is Managing Director of Skills for Security

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