The government is keen to see the m&e sector take up funding that is available under the Train to Gain scheme. Have you grabbed your share of the dosh?

Publicly funded projects, such as the 2012 Olympics, stipulate that all staff must have formal proof of skills – a Skillscard or registration with an appropriate competent persons scheme. For installers wishing to become registered with the Joint Industry Board in the electrotechnical sector, Electrotechnical Certification Scheme affiliation or the ECS card is a must.

Yet a surprisingly high proportion of companies have a workforce that lacks the business-winning qualifications they could easily obtain. According to recent research, 39% of those working in the electrotechnical sector and, more worryingly, 57% of heating and ventilation installers, do not possess the relevant badges of competency.

One of the routes to obtaining a Skillscard is Train to Gain, the government programme that provides fully funded training to bring the UK workforce up to the necessary requirements for obtaining an NVQ Level 2 or above (NVQ Level 3 for practising electricians). To date the scheme has been promoted and driven by the government, with varying degrees of success.

In a bid to improve the standing of Train to Gain in the m&e sector, BEST (Building Engineering Services Training) was given a national contract to promote the scheme, with advice and consultation provided by the ECA, HVCA, EAS (Electrical Assessment Services) and the APHC (Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors).

Under the banner ‘Skills Pay’, BEST is providing assessors for those requiring NVQ Level 2/3 as well as more experienced workers wishing to upskill. BEST is well positioned to provide assessment services, with more than 10 years’ experience delivering building services apprenticeships. Last year it formed a partnership with EAS to deliver electrotechnical apprenticeships and other electrical training.

Martin Payne, managing director of EAS, says: ”Access to Train to Gain on this national scale will be welcomed by employers and learners across the whole building services engineering [BSE] sector. For electrotechnical industries, it will mean a much-needed lifeline to gain the recognised qualification for JIB ECS grading as a UK electrician.

A big issue for SummitSkills is that people might have had a bad experience with Train to Gain in the past and will now ignore it. I would say to employers: it is well worth looking at again

Keith Marshall

“There are many operatives currently working out in the field who will benefit from this national initiative, from those seeking to qualify through an upskilling programme right through to the practising electrician who doesn’t already hold the required NVQ Level 3 certificate to gain full JIB recognition.

“The wide range of qualifications available through BEST’s ‘Skills Pay’, Train to Gain programme will enable employers, large or small, to get suitable qualifications for all their personnel, from the office to the boardroom, to ensure they have the correct skills.”

Mark Brenner, BEST chief executive officer, explains further: “As a sector, BSE has poor overall efficiency in terms of productivity. This is costing businesses money. With the current climate of economic uncertainty, there is a pressing need to be as cost-effective as possible. Via Train to Gain, companies can be helped to identify opportunities for improving skills, competency and efficiency, resulting in staff skills and a culture that provides tangible commercial benefits to the business.”

For employees and sole traders, having the relevant Skillscard is essential for winning work. While they may already have the experience, these cards give customers the guarantee that traders have made the grade, making them a more employable prospect.

BEST has secured Train to Gain funding for more than 5000 starts over the next three years. The scheme will not only improve the skills and productivity of the sector but also put m&e firmly on the map, providing a benchmark for other industries that have yet to encourage, or benefit from, the scheme.

Keith Marshall, chief executive officer of SummitSkills, the BSE sector skills council, commented: “This is absolutely vital for the industry. When you are talking about the existing workforce, Train to Gain is the primary funding mechanism. We have argued long and hard with the government to make it more flexible. One of our biggest issues is that people might have had a bad experience with Train to Gain in the past and will now ignore it. I would say to employers: it is well worth looking at again.”