The Generation Gap

Water leisure companies need to invest in a new generation of young apprentices to avoid a skills crisis.

The pool and spa sector is on the brink of a skills crisis as an ageing workforce retires; leaving a durth of specialist knowledge in the water leisure sector.

Increasingly urgent searches, in situations vacant advertisements, for suitably experienced swimming pool and hot tub engineers, is the writing on the wall for pool and spa business, says Richard Carrington, chairman of the Swimming Pool and Allied Trade Association.

Carrington, who is also managing director of Calorex Heat Pumps is urging the industry to act fast to invest in a new generation of pool and spa apprentices before it is too late. “With the roots of the industry firmly planted in the Sixties, we are facing a disastrous skills gap, as a whole generation of knowledge and expertise begins to disappear,” he says.

“If we do not invest in the next generation, pool and spa businesses are simply not going to meet the specialist demands placed upon them,” he adds.

West Sussex-based Bell Leisure is one of just a handful of companies that is bucking the trend.

The company took on two apprentices in September last year; one to take on electrical-based training. With the absence of suitable course available, the innovative company came up with its own bespoke training course for a second apprentice as a specialist swimming pool engineer.

“Our decision to take on two apprentices last year was about investing in the company’s future and bringing in new people with fresh ideas and perspectives,” explains Bell Leisure’s Lawrence Pearce.

“For youngsters wishing to enter the industry there is very little in terms of training or qualifications, which prompted us to take on our own trainees. The limited options that are available cost, which is ultimately money off the bottom line for us.”

The Bell Leisure electrical apprentice is undertaking a three year college course, combined with hands on practical experience in residential and pool electrics. Once completed, he will gain a diploma qualification and will be offered a full-time position at Bell Leisure.

“Unfortunately there is no college course or qualifications for swimming pool engineering, so instead our apprentice has been shadowing one of our engineers on a full-time basis,” explains Lawrence.

“We have also arranged for him to do a customer service course at college so he will have some kind of formal qualification at the end of his training,” he adds.

The Bell Leisure apprentices are paid the minimum wage throughout their training. In terms of funding, the company is given a bursary of £1,500 per apprentice, which covers the cost of books, clothing and other learning resources.

Lawrence says: “For the industry to continue to grow, we need to make sure the right people are coming through and have enough support to establish their careers within it. Depending on the success of our current apprenticeship scheme, we will potentially be looking to take on more recruits in the future.”

The Institute of Swimming Pool Engineers (ISPE) is currently the only organisation in the UK to offer an official training scheme for those seeking employment in the pool trade.

The ISPE Home Study Course covers the main four subjects concerning the pool trade, namely, Filtration, Chemicals, Heating and Construction, and acts as an introduction to those new to, or seeking employment within, the pool trade.

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