The network infrastructure industry has a new Occupational Qualification Structure. Here, Dan Little, director of J Brand, speaks to the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) about the development and importance of the new structure in future-proofing our workforce.
Originally set up in 1933 by Joseph Brand as an electrical contracting and repair business in West London, today the J Brand business directly employs over 120 staff and offers services across the UK and Europe.
Diversification has also enabled J Brand to flourish, with pioneering work being conducted in the late 1970s, when data communications was in its infancy.
With the addition of a dedicated support desk facility, configuration centres in London and the North West of England and continued investment in personnel, J Brand is now able to offer customers a total network solution for projects across technologies and vertical market sectors.
With the company’s background and growth over the years, it is no surprise that J Brand was one of the employers involved in forming the new Occupational Qualification Structure leading to Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) card recognition for the Network Infrastructure industry.
As of 1 January 2021, all new (initial) ECS card applications must comply with the structure, and from 1 July 2021 all card renewals need to meet the requirements of the new structure.
Developed by an industry wide working group formed of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), the Joint Industry Board (JIB), SELECT, CNet Training and a large group of employers, the new structure followed the launch of the Network Cable Installer Apprenticeship Standard.
Dan Little, director of J Brand, feels it is something that was long overdue. He said, “There has been a need for this for some time and the Network Infrastructure industry has really been behind the game compared to some other sectors.”
Going into further detail about the reasons behind the development of the new structure, Dan explained, “This is all about future-proofing to the best of our ability. The necessary skills for Network Infrastructure occupations at all levels were not recognised under previous schemes, there was no structure.
“There has always been a demand for electricians, the demand for network installers is only going to increase and the training standards need to be in place to support that.”
There were of course some issues to address in order for the new structure not to have an adverse effect on workers, particularly in Dan’s opinion the ability for it to recognise the skills of mature candidates who had the years of industry experience but not the formal qualifications to show for it.
Dan believes it was vital that mature experienced workers were not forgotten about during the process, saying, “The new structure is not just about apprentices. We knew there were many people who have been working and developing their skills over a long period of time, so we had to create a route for them as well. CNet Training went to great lengths to help see that through.”
A shift in technology
Returning to the importance of having the right training in place, Dan emphasised a shift in the cabling technology that goes into our buildings and the problems that will occur if it is not installed correctly.
“We always need to keep one eye on the future and at the moment there is not enough understanding about how much development is underway in the Power over Ethernet (PoE) space.
“As more and more hardware is likely to derive its power source over the network, the integrity and quality of the network installation becomes even more critical.
“Take a retail environment for example, whether it’s power for the lighting system, CCTV, or a till, if we don’t train people to the standards required, the kit just isn’t going to work.”
This is where schemes such as ECS cards play a crucial role, as they provide clarity in defining the different professions on offer in the Network Infrastructure industry.
One of the aims therefore of the new structure is to make sure that whatever ECS card an individual holds they have the necessary training and competence in place behind the card to ensure they are qualified to carry out the specific job they are undertaking.
Cause for optimism
To increase the number of skilled workers to meet future demand will of course involve attracting people to the industry in the first place, but Dan has cause for optimism because of the growing interest in new technology.
“On the face of it our market is a tough sell against the standard electrician’s route because of the pay and grading systems.
“However, technology is always developing and if people are still keen to do the hands-on physical stuff at the same time as exercising a technical mindset then there are plenty of opportunities to progress to other areas, such as data centres, access control and cybersecurity.”
He added, “More people are leaving school with a focus on technical skills in IT so there is a generational pool of talent well-prepared for a career in Network Infrastructure.”
Concluding his thoughts on the Occupational Qualification Structure, Dan Little is pleased that it has finally been established thanks to the efforts of the industry working group but says there is still more to be done.
“We were pleased to be part of this work to raise the bar for network infrastructure given J Brand’s long and progressive history of high standards of training in this vital part of the electrotechnical sector.
“But this industry does not stand still and we mustn’t either. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we need more people trained to the required standards.
“It is important that we look at how we can build on the progress made and I am sure everybody involved will be keen to continue working together so that the Network Infrastructure industry is leading the way in standards and competence rather than being left behind.”