Tuesday 8 July 2014


So, I spent my weekend at my day job, teaching electricians to do what you should all hope electricians already know how to do. Once more I am struck by how un-British we are becoming. While the majority of my students are ready and willing to get on with the task, an increasing number seem to expect an easy ride and an assured outcome, regardless of their aptitude. They pay the price, they gets their ‘sustiffcits’. Whatever happened to the age old principle of matching square pegs with square holes and letting them settle into it? Maybe we need another war on home soil to resurrect some sense of unity, some sense of purpose?

Of course, it doesn’t help when we see politicians apparently making large via the trappings of office while selling our sovereignty down the river. Forget the blitz spirit, “All for me and you’re on your own,” might be the motto of today’s so-called leaders. In encouraging wanton individualism I really think there’s a danger we largely forget what it means to belong. David Cameron seems to want to dilute what we’ve got still further as he suggests ethnic quotas for Westminster. And the voice of the establishment, the BBC, long ago forsook appointing the right person for the job in favour of ticking boxes to meet some diversity target.

As for me, while I sometimes enjoy what I do (although work has only ever really been work for me; a way to pay the bills while I wait to retire and wither away) I have a vague unease that in making that living I may be contributing to the problem. Whatever happened to our technical industries? Apprenticeships that once took five years were reduced to four and then three and now you can take a fourteen-week course and be spat out of the sausage machine as a brand new electrician – live and dangerous. Years ago, the system took in school-leavers and gradually made tradesmen out of them, paid for by a combination of the state funded further education colleges and investment by employers in on-the-job training.

Similarly, in public office people used to pay their dues by getting involved and joining their party of choice, volunteering later to stand for election as councillors and working their way up until the prospect of a local parliamentary seat came their way, whereas now they are selectively bred by former cabinet ministers, expensively educated, schooled in the dark arts and parachuted into safe seats – instant arsehole; just add voters.

Across the spectrum the old demands for rigour would appear to be lost. We no longer train people for a lifetime of good service but merely to shore up the short-term labour demands. Gone are the days of secure jobs and the concomitant loyalty between employers and employees, to be replaced with a production line churning out the ‘that'll do’ as cheaply as possible. In the days of the gold rush the real money was made by the companies who sold blankets and shovels. Today those equivalents are the training organisations, registration bodies, insurance companies, health and safety inspectors and others wanting their slice… with all the costs borne by the trainees themselves.

Experts for sale or rent

Thomas Edison said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Today he might well say that opportunities are missed because they are dressed in branded polo shirts and welcoming grins, wielding PowerPoint presentations... and don’t look like real work at all.


  1. The Electricians job has been split into various different jobs. We changed our colour code, which was the safest in the world, supposedly to 'harmonise' with EU and American colour coding, but really it was about cheap labour. I used to hump my tool box all over Europe, only to find that foreign labour never brought any tools?
    As a time served electrician, it disheartens me to see the trade abused so, today's electrician is just that, a 'terminator', the man who makes the final connection, or we can have a 'wireman' whose sole job is to pull cables of various sizes from point A to point B. We have 'cable pullers' who install the heavy duty steel wired armour (SWA) that carry the high voltage. There are also the metal munchers, they install the ladder-rack and trunking that carry the cable, along with the conduit and 'basket' for low-voltage. Finally we have the 'jointers' the men who 'gland-off', these men will measure the length needed and 'make the end off' on a SWA cable. All these jobs were the responsibility of the 'Electrician' in the normal course of his job.
    Quite rightly as you state, the money men are making a fortune, training people to do a 'specific' job, especially with more and more use to 'manufactured' mechanical fittings, the 'bends' and 'T' pieces in trunking. Hidden in these jobs, are the 'test and inspect', who sit a special qualification, I think we are now up to 17th Edition. I have the 16th, the only difference between the two is Equipotential Bonding, or Earthing arrangements. The 15th edition, which came out in 1980 had stood the test of time, then in 1988, voltages across Europe 'harmonised' at 230v single phase, 440v three phase, So they brought out new IEE test and inspect regularions, the 16th edition in 1995! This was upgraded to 17th edition 2003, because; " It is proposed that on January 1st, 2003 the tolerance levels will be widened to +/- 10%.

    Since the present supply voltages in the UK lie within the acceptable spread of values, Supply Companies are not intending to reduce their voltages in the near future. This is hardly surprising, because such action would immediately reduce the energy used by consumers (and the income of the Companies) by more than 8%."
    Which is why the 17th edition concentrates on Earthing!

    They still couldn't teach foreigners the Red, Blue, Yellow code?

    1. Almost every single thing you say about the regulations is factually incorrect. The regs have always changed - on average every three to four years since May 11th 1882. Testing has ALWAYS been required and certification has been an explicit requirement since 1939. The 16th & 17th Editions have NOTHING to do with the changes to the nominal designation of supply voltages which are the province of different, mandatory regulations.

      Equipotential bonding was introduced in the 14th Edition of 1966 and supplementary bonding came in with the 15th. Earthing and bonding are two entirely separate issues and although there are ENORMOUS changes and new topics introduced in the 17th Edition compared to the 16th, none of them have anything significant to do with either of those two subjects.

      As for safety, there is literally NO evidence that UK electrical practices were ever any safer than any other advanced European nation, but I see on a daily basis astounding amounts of evidence that the majority of time-served British electricians understand very little about the regulations. Ask any trainer and he'll tell you the same.

    2. Electroprotogenic bonding across transcient potentials has been a facet of the regulations since 1926. Are you both absolutely stark, raving, mad?

  2. Who mentioned regulations? I was merely pointing out, to the layman, how our job had changed and how we have more 'training' companies. We didn't need any changes from 1980 till 1995 as the 15th sufficed and as you say, the 14th (which came in while I was at school) lasted 14 years?
    Your quite right also in the 'practices' not being proven any safer, but the colour coding, was certainly regarded as the better! The only 'significant' change was in the 16th, allowing cables to be drawn directly across a wall, from 'socket to socket', which I didn't agree with!

    1. "Who mentioned regulations? " You did.

      And not one of your 'layman' explanations was correct. The sixteenth, by the way, came in in 1991 and lasted seventeen years ad EVERY edition introduced major changes, all the way back to the second.