ACT News

Canberra's apprentice electricians not being given basic skills, says national electricians group

The electrical industry has urged the government to help establish a new trainer for electricians in Canberra amid ongoing concerns about the quality of training at the Canberra Institute of Technology.

Apprentice electricians were not being given important basic skills at the CIT, National Electrical and Communications Association chief executive Suresh Manickam said in a submission for the coming budget.

Ongoing concerns are being raised about the training of apprentice electricians at the Canberra Institute of Technology.
Ongoing concerns are being raised about the training of apprentice electricians at the Canberra Institute of Technology. Photo: Erin Jonasson

"Some are coming through the training system unable to properly conduct tests - obviously this has significant safety implications when dealing with electricity," he said.

While the performance of the CIT had improved in some respects, there were still fundamental issues.

Standards had been lowered, presumably to push more apprentices through the system. The curriculum changed frequently without explanation and communication with employers was poor.

Electrical apprentices are employed by electricians while they are studying, but the national association said employers had not been given proper notice of when apprentices were required for class, timetable changes, or whether they still had subjects to complete before sitting their final exams.


The CIT training course has been dogged by complaints, with the national training advisory board also asking for an investigation early in 2015, frustrated by slow progress in having its concerns addressed by the CIT.

ACT Electrotechnology Energy Advisory Board executive officer Ross Heazlewood pointed then to questions about the extent to which the CIT course met national standards.

Concerns were also raised last year by a former trainer and assessor on the course, Ian Dunstan, who said inadequate training of electrical apprentices was a risk to safety. He gave an example of a unit that taught apprentices how to choose the right-sized cables for the job.

"If you have put them out in the workplace without providing considerable training on that unit of competence, they choose an undersized cable which, without creating panic, could lead to a fire. It is as serious as that. We are a high-risk industry. It is that simple."

The National Electrical and Communications Association said the CIT's training of apprentice electricians has been "the subject of significant complaints by NECA members for some years".

The problem had been made worse by the closure of another trainer, Electroskills, in 2013.

When Electroskills closed, between 250 and 300 apprentices had been transferred to the CIT but the transition had not been handled well, with complete records not always passed on.

"This resulted in the absurd situation whereby apprentices had to repeat subjects they had already satisfactorily completed, as they could not prove they had done so," the group's Mr Manickam said.

The government should help a new training organisation to set up in Canberra, he said.

This week, Mr Heazlewood said the course had been audited in November by the Australian Skills Quality Authority and he was keen to see the outcome of that audit. The CIT had also been working more positively on the issues this year, with the new board, and he was hopeful concerns would be addressed.

A second trainer, Global Energy Training Solutions, has started in Canberra in recent months.

Mr Manickam also urged the government to do more audits and tests of electrical products to ensure they met Australian safety standards, in his budget submission, he pointed to the death of a woman in 2014 on the Central Coast of NSW after she was electrocuted by a non-complaint USB charger, and the recall of Infinity and Olsent cables, believe to be installed in as many as 20,000 properties between 2010 and 2013.

Residual current devices were one example where more auditing was needed. The circuit breakers were required in new builds in most states and territories, and were being relied on to prevent electrocution and fire, but should be monitored to ensure they met Australian standards.

The group also urged the government to offer incentives to households to have their wiring checked.