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Electrical skills timebomb in Eastern England

As the electrification of the UK accelerates, Eastern England risks being left behind unless stakeholders in the region take urgent action. Low carbon technologies reduce energy use and lower bills, but without a skilled electrical workforce to install them, energy costs will continue to soar.

Research by leading trade body, ECA (Electrical Contractors’ Association), shows Eastern England facing a demographic timebomb. More electricians are leaving the industry than new recruits entering. The evidence shows weak links between education and industry throughout the region are at the root of the problem.

Installing low carbon technologies, such as Electric Vehicle Charge Points (EVCPs) and Solar PV, are a subset of core electrical work. It is not possible to decarbonise the region without more qualified electricians who understand integrating new technologies with existing systems. 

The story of Eastern England is a tale of two halves. One half – Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk – traditionally boasts some of the largest resident electrical workforces in England. The other half – Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and South East Midlands – some of the lowest.

Even in the eastern half, the foundations of the local skills-base are built on sand. There is heavy reliance on electricians migrating into the area from elsewhere in the UK. Many of these people have been drawn in the past by opportunities in London. The region’s electrical workforce is consequently the oldest in the UK, with almost half (43%) being 50 or over. The proportion of young people coming into the industry is, by contrast, nearly a third (30%) below the UK average. Apprentice recruitment rates in Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk are among the lowest in the country.

Andrew Eldred, Director of Workforce and Public Affairs for the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) said:

“We must ensure that Further Education providers in the region start to deliver more apprenticeships and other industry recognised training routes. This is vital if we are to defuse the looming demographic timebomb”. 

There is too much reliance on classroom-based courses, which do not produce qualified electricians. Far more people in Eastern England are enrolling onto these courses than starting as apprentices. It’s up to five times more in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire (South East Midlands) and four times more in Hertfordshire and Essex. Given that current progression rates from college into an apprenticeship are typically very low (10% or less), this seems a terrible waste of money, time and talent”. 

We also need more focus on upskilling the existing electrical workforce to deliver innovative electrical technologies like smart building controls”. 

More electrical businesses in Eastern England (30%) than in the UK as a whole (11%) cite a shortage of suitable training as barriers to diversifying into net zero. Current levels of capability in technologies, such as heat pumps, smart buildings and EVCPs, are substantially lower than elsewhere. 

Businesses in the region say they are unable to diversify due to lack of access to appropriate net zero upskilling opportunities. This threatens also to disrupt future plans for diversification, especially in smart buildings, building automation and heat pumps. 

ECA has been actively engaging with Local Skills Improvement Plans all around England, receiving positive responses from those in Essex and New Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk). Further industry engagement from LSIPs here and elsewhere in the region is essential to raise electrical SME businesses’ awareness of upskilling opportunities and establish much stronger pathways from classroom-based courses into apprenticeships and employment. 

Efforts made now by training providers, businesses and local government will help to stem otherwise inevitable declines in the electrical workforce in Eastern England, better preparing all parts of the region for the energy transition.

You can read the LSIP report here


Last updated 26 October 23