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Case Study: Jon Ballard

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 28th July 2014

Today we caught up with one of our students Jon Ballard. Jon started training with Trade Skills 4U back in 2012 and has since taken a number of courses. Jon was able to fund his courses in part with ELC credits from his resettlement office. Jon’s company Ballard Electricals is based in Birmingham and has gone from strength to strength since leaving the Army in 2013. He is now sending his own employees to Trade Skills 4U to get qualified. We asked him some questions to find out why he travelled all the way from Birmingham to train with us.

How long have you been working in the electrical industry?

I had my first taste of Electrical work at 15 whilst I was labouring on one of my dads building sites during the school holidays... I was hooked!  Dad decided it was my time to learn about the building trade.  So he politely loaned (forced upon me) each of the trades in-turn, thus enabling me to learn a little bit about everything.  It worked, apart from a small (19 year) detour in my building career (the Army) I have always had an attraction to the site life.

What type of work were you doing before training?

I spent 19 years in the Army, with the last 9 years within the Bomb Disposal trade.  Being a cheeky bugger by nature, I managed to do a lot of 'moonlighting' away from the Army as an electrician around my military commitments.  Life on site got to the point where the boys were taking the mickey about my lack of electrical qualifications even though I had lots of years on site..... TS4U here I come!

What were your key goals when initially training with Trade Skills 4U?

Initially, I came to TS4U for a few 1 day courses to increase my knowledge of data networks, intruder alarms and door entry etc.  However, when I got to know the staff and facilities I decided that I wanted to use TS4U to conduct my Electrotechnical Level 2 & 3 Diplomas.

What difference has the training made to your career?

Gaining my level 2 & 3 qualifications has been great.  It has wrapped up my 20+ years’ experience with the theoretical knowledge giving me the factual reasons for doing what us Sparks do on a daily basis.  It has also turned me in to an argumentative bugger now.... I know it all! Ha.

What type of work are you now doing?

Since leaving the Army in Late 2013 I have been lucky enough to see my company (started in 2009) become stronger and more resilient. I have managed to transition my focus from a split between the Army vs. Electrical to being now fully focused on the development of my Electrical Contracting business.  I have attempted to set up my business so that we are not stuck in just one facet of electrical work.  Just yesterday, I started the day in a restaurant renovation in central Birmingham and completed the day fitting an additional socket for a lovely old chap down the road.  I feel that if I restrict my work to one facet of electrical work (domestic, commercial or industrial) I put the business at risk from future collapses in the industry. However, if I try to do too much...... This too, may end badly, seeing us do nothing well. A balancing act that I must get right.

What made you choose to train with Trade Skills 4U?

Over the past 10 years I have undertaken various electrical courses, mostly to stop the mickey-taking from the boys on site.  I have undergone training at 3 different providers all promising various things.  TS4U was one of those 3.  I chose TS4U to do my Level 2 & 3 because they lived up to those promises and when I sat back to think about where I should do this important training, I thought that TS4U gave the best balance of facilities and instructor engagement.

What would you say to someone thinking about training with Trade Skills 4U?

The 2 other training providers I have used over the years both had poor facilities and some, in my opinion, condescending and snob-ish instructors - that annoyed me.  I had done 10 years on site (and 3 fighting operational tours abroad with the Army) before going to my first course and this bloke was talking to me like I was a moron!  I worked hard to control my tongue and temper, which as it turned out, was great practice for dealing with the occasional customer!  TS4U have some amazing instructors.  I have not met one instructor who has not been helpful and quick to assist me.  When I am spending this much money, that is important.

What would you say to someone thinking about training with Trade Skills 4U?

I have no reservation in recommending TS4U to everyone looking for a well-rounded training programme for an electrical career.  Everyone I have dealt with, from the instructors through to the back-room staff have been great.  Smiling and happy to help, even when they are visibly busy with some other burden at the time.

What are you planning on doing in the future?

My future?.... Since I had a late start with the educational side of things I have plans to finish off my NVQ and I have my Level 4 design course booked for later in 2014.  I am also looking for another course to sink my teeth in to for 2015.... Answers on a postcard..... I would like to reach a higher standard of knowledge through continued electrical education.  I think this will allow me to couple this with my practice experience and ultimately become more astute at bidding for contracts.  I have some product development work with manufacturers currently underway and am looking at expanding my design experience with this new qualification and knowledge.

We wish Jon the best of luck with his future training and business. Having trained Jon numerous times we know he is a very professional, disciplined, organised and friendly individual who works hard and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him to anyone looking for an electrician in Birmingham or the West Midlands.





Categories: case study

Register of 3rd Party Certifiers. What's happening?

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 24th July 2014

Back in April 2013 the Government made some amendments to Part P.  One of the key changes was the introduction of a registered third party who could certify electrical work that was carried out by an installer who is not a registered competent person.

However it was not until 6th April 2014 that an official Government approved register was finalised finally ending the confusion about insurance and work guarantees that surrounded third party electrical work sign offs.

Industry Support

The third party register has got off to a rocky start with both the NICEIC and ELECSA opting out of the third party certification scheme amid fears that it could undermine registered electricians, while NAPIT and Stroma point out that the scheme allows electricians to act in place of Building Control officers who can already deliver these services.

The NICEIC and ELECSA believe that the registers requirements fall well short of the standards and safeguards that will enhance electrical safety.  Furthermore it is argued that the register is not UKAS accredited meaning that there will be no independent verification that the third party scheme operators are performing to the required standards.

As a result of this, both the NICEIC and ELECSA decided not to produce such a register.

However, the Government is still pressing ahead, accepting that UKAS are unable to accredit this type of work and instead identifying other independent parties to conduct the appropriate audits and verification of the scheme operators.

Third Party Certification Scheme Operators

Currently, there are only two scheme operators who participate in the third party certification scheme.  These are NAPIT Registration Ltd and Stroma Certification Limited.

Registration is of both the individual certifier and the company that employs them, this ensures that requirements that can only be placed on a legal entity can be enforced. No electrical business can certify any third party electrical work until they are registered on a Third Party Certification Scheme.  Therefore technical competencies of all electricians are checked before third party certification is awarded.

Certifying other peoples work

Electricians can become registered with a Government approved third party scheme provider through either their own company or firm.  This would be in addition to self certification registration.  Once third party registered you would be able to check domestic electrical work that is undertaken by others and certify it is compliant with building regulations.

The certifier must be notified by the installer in advance, and the certifier involved throughout the installation, not just at the end. The third party certifier will complete a DCLG agreed third party certification report (an EICR is not acceptable) subject to satisfactory completion of inspection and testing, and give this to the person ordering the work. Electrical work must be notified by the certifier to their scheme within 5 days of completion, and this information will be forwarded to local authorities in accordance with the Regulations.

How Technical Competencies will be assessed

Electricians have to meet a minimum technical competence.  Both the electrical business and electricians themselves will be assessed on technical competence.  You can expect to be examined on your ability to carry out inspection and testing of electrical installations.  This will include an independent verification of technical qualifications and an on-site witnessed assessment of inspection and testing carried out by a business or individual unconnected with the third party certification scheme. You can see the level of competence required below:

Source: https://www.gov.uk/third-party-certification-schemes-for-domestic-electrical-work

In the above table we can see that the entry requirements for the scheme are the same as those for the current domestic installer scheme plus a Level 3 Certificate in Inspection & Testing. In laymans terms this means you will need the usual set of qualifications plus a C&G 2394 as a minimum. Most people will ask why not the C&G 2395? The reason is that the certifier will need to be present during the installation so periodic inspection & testing isn't really relevant. However most people who take the C&G 2394 will probably want to take the 2395 course too as the two courses overlap.

Authorisation of third party scheme providers

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) are responsible for authorising the third party scheme operators.  Third party scheme operators have to meet a total of 21 conditions of authorisation which comprise of the scheme operators own obligations to the DCLG, their obligations to their registered members and customers as well as to Local Authorities.

The last word from NAPIT....

NAPIT agree that the third party register has been receiving some bad press, however as David Cowburn, the Managing Director of NAPIT states, the third party register does have its good points.

David says “Third Party Certification has been getting a bad press because it is portrayed as undermining the work of registered installers. NAPIT share these concerns and will always strongly recommend to householders that they should use registered installers to ensure that work complies with the Building Regulations and is covered by suitable financial protection. However, it is already the case that electrical work can be inspected by Building Control (either a local authority or private Building Control approved inspectors) and this creates a problem that either the work is inspected by someone without electrical expertise, or Building Control have to find an expert and charge for the inspection”

David goes on to state that the inspection of electrical works by a certifier as against someone from a Local Authority without electrical expertise can only be a good thing and no work can be signed off without a thorough inspection:

“The introduction of Third Party Certification effectively recognises that electricians can do the work of Building Control. As such it is important that it doesn’t weaken the approach that would be taken by a local authority and as such the Certifier must be notified by the installer before the work begins, and must be involved in inspecting the project throughout the installation – this scheme does not allow certification of finished work which can only be regularised by a local authority. Furthermore, a Certifier will have to submit their complete electrical installation report to NAPIT for validation, so work cannot be rubber-stamped without evidence of thorough inspection. We are already being approached by local authorities who would rather refer DIY work to electricians under a Third Party Certification scheme than take the project on themselves.”

Your thoughts

There has been interesting debate on this subject in recent weeks.  Which side of the fence are you on?  Is the register making a simple thing complicated or is there really something good to be had from it.  Are we undermining expertise or embracing it?  Over to you guys.....


Categories: 3rd party register

Beware! Counterfeit Electrical Books - Can You Spot The Fake?

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 11th July 2014

So we recently reported on counterfeit electrical products and components. However last week in our centre we found that 3 members of a PAT Testing course had inadvertently bought counterfeit copies of the “Code of Practice for In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment 4th Edition” book.

Not only is this bad in terms of taking money away from the industry that invests heavily in producing technical literature it can also have some very serious consequences in terms of safety.

How can this be I hear you ask? Well when the counterfeiters copy a book these days they don’t simply photo copy it. They actually use software to scan the book and reproduce it. However the software makes mistakes and sometimes letters and numbers are mis-interpreted or completely missing. Needless to say if you can’t rely on your book to give you the correct figures then you run the risk of getting something very wrong.

How to Spot A Counterfeit Book?

It is actually very very hard. These days the counterfeit books are look and feel almost exactly like the real thing. With the code of practice books we found that the counterfeit actually had brighter lighter colours but you wouldn’t know this unless you put two books together. 

Can you spot the fake below?

The only other way to tell if your book is not real is to spot a typo or two. If you see a word misspelled or a number or letter missing then you may realise that you have bought a dodgy copy. Looking at the image above the only real way to spot the fake is if you notice the the table numbers are different. The table number should be 15.3 but in the top version the number is 13.3. Also on the far right figure 15.1 text reads "CDamaged" below where it should simply read "Damaged". This is indicative of the type of errors you will find in a counterfeit book. The only other way to tell if your book is not real is to spot a typo or two. 

How to avoid buying a counterfeit book

It is simply a case of making sure that you have bought the book from a reputable establishment. If you are buying a book from ebay or somewhere similar then you really are taking a risk. We would advise buying books directly from the IET or Amazon. Two of the counterfeit books that were found in our centre were bought from Amazon Marketplace which essentially is a network of sellers selling new and second hand items. We recommend avoiding Amazon Marketplace for purchasing these books as it is really essential that you get an original copy.

We spoke with our friends at the IET about the books and they had said that this is a growing problem, however this is the first time they had come across counterfeit versions of this PAT testing book. As such we have arranged for these counterfeit books to be sent to the IET so they can hold copies for reference. We have been told by the IET that the problem was getting worse and that recently they found that 20% of the books on a course in a local college held by students turned out to be counterfeit. 

If you find you have a counterfeit copy of a book we would advise contacting the seller directly and demanding a refund.


Categories: books

Get a Handy Cable Labeller Completely Free with Brother & Trade Skills 4U

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 8th July 2014

At the end of the day even the best electrician can have trouble in keeping track of which wire goes where on a complex install and when you are working on a day rate time means money. So to help out we have been offering every student that books with us over the past few months the opportunity to get their hands on a Brother P-touch E100 Labelling Machine completely FREE which has specific functions allowing electricians to label wires.

A cable labeller isn’t the first tool that springs to mind when you think about electrical installation, however these handy machines can really save time and money. By clearly and correctly labelling your installation you will appear professional, save time for moves, adds and changes to cabelling and make life easier for your customers.  Using a labelling machine eliminates costly mistakes caused by illegible, handwritten and incomplete labels. With wider tapes and fluorescent colours you can also create professional warning signs to ensure the safety of your customers and co-workers.

The P-touch E100 usually retails for around £50 so getting your hands on a free one is a real steal. Students also have the opportunity to upgrade their P-touch to the E550WVP model. This model has extra features including the ability to edit labels wirelessly from your smart phone. The E550WVP model is being offered at £89+VAT which is a saving of over £90 on the normal list price.

To find more on both models see the profiles below:


One of the key differences between the two is that the upgraded P-touch will allow you to print onto heat shrink tube which could be very handy indeed. We have limited stock available and this offers ends on the 28th July so don’t delay get your free P-touch with any booking today!