Mind the gap
23 January 2020
With a recognised and increasing skills gap appearing across the systems industry, employers must act now by taking on apprentices and upskilling their existing staff, explains Trevor Jenks
Third-party certification has always been linked to the technical competence demonstrated by approved companies to meet the challenge of the fast-evolving technologies of today’s security and emergency system market; challenges that increasing call for technically competent, trained staff at all levels.
The skills gap across the industry is predicted to grow in the coming decade – therefore the need for third-party certified companies to continue to upskill existing staff, and for the industry to also have an active, innovative, apprenticeship programme to supply the system engineers and designers of the future, has never been more important.
Put under the media spotlight by reports, for example of Dame Judith Hackitt, FiChemE. FCGI., in to the wider fire industry following the Grenfell fire disaster, the whole of the system industry needs to correct years of training neglect by proving and developing the technical competence held by its operatives.
Product training has always been provided by the manufacturers, who play an often-unacknowledged role in training and introducing new technologies – along with some companies who train their employees in-house – on how to fit their systems, as well as compliance to the national standards and codes of practice. This is not enough to provide the numbers of systems engineers we need if our industry is to grow and to take on the challenges that the new technologies bring.
When I asked the question “why don’t you do training?” the answer is almost always “Yes that’s all fine, but where can I get it, where can I send my apprentice for training and – to a lesser degree – how much will it cost?”
It was to help respond to those answers and to help existing and prospective SSAIB companies get access to the good quality training needed to meet the required standard that SSAIB created my role as national training manager.
My remit is to help develop a recognised minimum standard for the competence of system designers and engineers; To help develop and encourage an active apprenticeship programme across the UK to fill the skills gap for the future; To help develop methods for the existing workforce to prove their competence; To be a source of information on training/apprenticeships – and their providers – for both SSAIB-approved companies and the increasing number of companies seeking SSAIB approval.
In short, as the national training manager of the technical inspectorate within the security and emergency system industry, I facilitate and enable training provision – as well as apprenticeships – making training accessible and allowing individuals to prove the required competence against a national/regional competence standard.
Approved companies can continue to upskill to keep pace with new technologies, while prospective approved companies can access the training needed to prove the technical competence required for SSAIB membership.
The SSAIB is also working on a series of initiatives to bring opportunities for Continued Professional Development (CPD) and proof of competence to the market place.
I have been encouraging manufacturers to review their training and to support the apprenticeship programmes by having them go into colleges and companies to continue to provide their expert training, but including it alongside the product training, upskilling in the new technologies. This has given added value to such training and I continue to give support to manufacturers in this goal, highlighting those who provide such services.
I visit colleges and training providers throughout the UK and help them by facilitating their access to SSAIB companies, to manufacturers' training which supports the programme and to provide short presentations on the role of the inspectorates, the SSAIB and an introduction to auditing. I also keep in touch with the colleges and providers to share information and encourage their involvement in industry events and competitions.
SSAIB has been an active supporter of the setting up and encouragement of the new Certified Technical Security Professional (CTSP) register. The CTSP recognises the existing achievements of system designers and installers, based on experience and qualification at technician level or above.
Customers can check that the system has been designed and installed by a registered person, competent to do so for the registered sectors, as part of the tender process. In showing the way forward, all SSAIB technical auditors, after completing their training programme as auditors and meeting the strict criteria for technical competence, gain registration with the CTSP.
Encouraged by SSAIB to do so, more approved company employees are applying for – and gaining – CTSP registration, which they can use to provide customer confidence in their competence and winning contracts. I look forward to the day when the voluntary industry standard is CTSP registration, without the need to have a mandatory scheme that will undoubtedly follow at some time if it doesn’t.
SSAIB has been working as an active stakeholder of the FESS Employers Committee, which replaced the Skills Council in England, with the task of developing a new technical apprenticeship standard and setting the minimum standard for all engineers within the systems industry.
The new English apprenticeship programme is now in its third year and – with a threefold increase in apprentice numbers – has been a fantastic success story. It is still growing as well, as more colleges and providers come onboard. The introduction of the training levy for large companies has been a factor in the increasing number of providers and the FESS Standard, used by colleges and providers alike, truly creates a minimum standard for technical engineers.
The introduction of a separate and independent two-day assessment at the end of the three-year apprenticeship confirms the standard has been reached.
This assessment will become the foundation for existing employees to prove competence against the standard and may be linked to the development of the new qualification-based ECS card system etc.
This will mean upskilling the existing workforce in some cases. However, this will produce an industry able to prove its competence for the first time, before it is made to do so by legislation and it will reward the companies – large or small – who have invested in their staff.
In Northern Ireland, SSAIB has helped to encourage the NIFSEF (the Employers Federation in Northern Ireland) to work with the colleges to develop an apprenticeship programme for Northern Ireland, considering local regional requirements to deliver their standard. Their new scheme is set to be in place for the start of the next college year and builds on their existing schemes, which also includes upskilling provision at the colleges for existing company staff.
In Scotland, SSAIB continues to support the established apprenticeship programme that has been in place for some time and meets the requirements of the Scottish system. As in Northern Ireland, the scheme – although meeting the local apprenticeship scheme regional requirements – still delivers a technical level competent engineer.
SSAIB also continues to encourage the college structure in Wales as well, but there are presently two schemes; the old City and Guilds scheme, which is being withdrawn, and a JTL scheme. Both need to be urgently reviewed and replaced with a scheme in line with the rest of the UK’s technical level ones.
The training levy is collected across the UK and the devolved regional governments decide how much of the collected funding goes back into a particular scheme. The new standard in England, for example, increasing the scope of the apprenticeship programme to cover intrusion, access control, CCTV – together with fire and emergency lighting, has meant that there is more money for the new apprenticeship programme.
In the regions of the new or old schemes, which concentrated on one sector, the funding to cover the new apprentice programme is not sufficient, placing an additional cost on the company. Ideally, the funding for the programme should be the same throughout the UK.
The similarities of the regional schemes are demonstrated in the annual Engineers of Tomorrow (EOT) competition run at IFSEC for intrusion system and fire apprentices. As a stakeholder, SSAIB plays a major role in this competition – as we supply judges and help in the design of both competitions, as well as encouraging colleges to enter apprentices.
This is the showcase for the apprenticeship programme to the industry, with competitors coming from all regions. The apprenticeship standard and the technologies used show that they will be the engineers of tomorrow and what needs to be achieved across the industry.
This year saw the trial of the World Skills competition, which lifts the EOT contest onto a world stage as well as showcasing the industry at one of the largest career shows to school leavers in the country.
As SSAIB’s national training manager, I cannot solve the engineer shortage of today. However, I can encourage employers to take on apprentices and upskill their staff.
I can continue to work behind the scenes to make sure that there will not be a shortage of competent nationally-registered technical engineers/ designers in the years to come, working for both SSAIB-approved companies and the increasing number of companies seeking SSAIB approval.
As an industry, we can no longer sit on the side-lines and watch the world go by. SSAIB has always supported technical competence and the apprenticeship programme, which it will continue to do so in the increasingly high technology system future.
The time to act is now.
Trevor Jenks is national training manager at SSAIB. For further information visit https://ssaib.org/