Speaking after her inauguration as the first female President of the ECA (Electrical Contractors Association), Diane Johnson gave a stark warning about the skills shortage in the UK:
We are sitting on a ticking time bomb. If we don't act now, we will not have the home-grown talent needed to fulfil this country's potential. The consequences of that will be more far reaching than most people realise.
All too often the valuable role of our tradespeople is ignored. When we are no longer able to call on a qualified electrician, plumber or joiner, for example, to carry out essential work in our homes and businesses, because they are in such short supply, it will be too late.
I worry about what the landscape will look like in 10 years and who will be teaching our future captains of industry. For too long now the emphasis in the UK has been on University education rather than on-the-job skills training, with the craft route often seen as a lesser option. But I have young graduates knocking on my door with increasing regularity asking for the chance to learn a trade as their degree has proved almost worthless in the job market. This is particularly alarming as the cost of a degree is causing more and more graduates to leave with quite a scary level of debt, before they've even entered the "real" world, and with limited prospects.
What people often forget is that qualified tradespeople will often go on to set up their own businesses and become employers themselves. Without this natural pattern of events taking place the future looks very bleak. Critically, the UK is fast falling behind other countries, such as Germany, which still recognise the need for craftsmen and women and have continued to train much higher numbers of apprentices. This will affect our young people's long term chances of employment as foreign companies undertaking contracts in the UK will be forced to bring in their own skilled labour because we will not have the skilled labour to compete for those jobs. Our industry is still climbing out of a very tough recession and we recognize the Government has to take tough measures to help aid the Nation's recovery.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we still need to train people to carry out these essential skills in years to come. If we don't value our trades and the Government doesn't properly incentivise employers to take on apprentices, it's only a matter of time before the bomb will explode.