Apprenticeship Featured Industry News

Employer gives straight-talking insight into the challenge of training apprentice electricians in latest industry podcast from SECTT and SELECT

Mike Stark outlines secrets of skills success in new episode, entitled ‘Five-way tag teams, the proud father and a kick up the bahookie’.

A straight-talking employer gives his forthright views on what it takes to train and develop apprentice electricians in the latest podcast from the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) and leading trade association SELECT.

The new episode of Sparks’ Remarks features no-holds barred insights from Mike Stark of leading facilities management firm Atalian Servest AMK, who has more than 39 years of business experience and has been supporting electrical apprentices for the last eight years.

In the podcast, entitled Five-way tag teams, the proud father and a kick up the bahookiehe tells listeners about the qualities required to become a competent and qualified electrician – and the tactics needed to inspire and motivate learners to reach their full potential.

Mike says: “I always say it’s a five-way tag team – company, college, SECTT, training officer and apprentice. If someone doesn’t pull their weight or commit then it won’t work as it’s a struggle for the other four.

“For example, we had a student struggle to pass the first stage of their apprenticeship but we supported him and he passed it, absolutely flew through Stage 2 and is now doing well in Stage 3, so the support in his early stages has really helped him and made a difference.

“Sometimes, just like the ‘proud father’ some of the apprentices say they see me as, they need an arm around them as well as a hug – and we’re quick enough to give them a kick up the backside when needed too! 

“I can think of one apprentice who had a really hard couple of years personally and is now back on his chosen path and it’s great to see the smile back on his face. For me, it’s the most satisfying thing to see apprentices who have struggled at one point but who then make progress and pass.”

Mike – Director of Data Networks at the SELECT member firm, which recently merged with OCS Group – goes on: “It’s been gratifying to see how support for apprenticeships has improved across the board in recent years. Communications too have become better, with a portal available from day one and a direct line of comms to me. 

“Students are here to learn and realise they have homework and deadlines for a reason. Some have struggled but we’re working hard on improving this. Those students who have been on a pre-apprenticeship course turn up better able to take advantage of the training experience.

“Being a qualified electrician is to be a member of a safety-critical profession. Of the three key utilities – gas, water and electricity – it is electricity which is the hardest to detect and the safety risk element is a huge part of the course.

“We’re not looking for superstars, we’re looking for apprentices who are dedicated and committed to the cause of becoming electricians. We’ve had apprentices win awards at national level which is great but all of them who pass the Final Integrated Competence Assessment (FICA) are a success in our eyes.”

One apprentice who trained under Mike’s tutelage is Joshua Jones, 24, a fourth-year learner who tells the podcast how he initially studied fitness at college after leaving school, but soon realised his future prospects lay in the electrical sector. 

He says: “I thought that at 19 I might be too old but learned that’s not so and instead it’s about keeping your head down and working hard. There was a good mix of people in my Edinburgh College class and while the workload was tricky at times I managed to get through.

“I undertook the pre-apprenticeship course and a great benefit was getting the on-site experience. Yes, there is lots of banter which might not be to everyone’s taste, but times are changing and there are more women on the courses now which is a good thing.”

Joshua – who recently undertook a successful resit to gain his FICA – continues: “You need to stick with it and make sure you do extra work at home, like an hour or two a night for first year. I didn’t use the help on offer all that much but I was really grateful to know it was there. 

“I was lucky enough to be mentored by Mike and motivated by a good group, as well as the prospect of a strong career path, travel opportunities and the earning potential. So, for the time being, my plan is to stay where I am here and continue to learn.” 

Like the previous two episodes, the new podcast is aimed at existing and would-be apprentices and their employers, and is hosted by journalist Kim McAllister and Barrie McKay, Training and Development Manager at SECTT.

Barrie said: “The training framework at Atalian Servest AMK is great and its strong support network is a model for other employers, so we’re hopeful this podcast will inspire other employers to get in touch and start the conversation about taking on more apprentices.” 

Sparks’ Remarks includes two earlier podcasts featuring apprentices at both ends of their training who are looking forward to a challenging career both at home and further afield. April 2023’s launch episode, The good, the bad and the fallopian tube windups, was followed by More than wires and pliers: My first year as an apprentice which aired in July.

Anne Galbraith, CEO of SECTT, which manages high-quality training on behalf of the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB) – said: “This third podcast tells the next chapter in the apprentice story, giving the views of an employer and how they develop young learners so they can enjoy the many rewards of the vital role they are being trained to play.”

The podcast comes during a record year for electrical apprenticeships in Scotland, with 934 apprentices and adult trainees recruited for the 2022/23 intake and extra financial support secured for the 2023/24 intake after lobbying by SELECT, SECTT, the SJIB and Unite the Union.