The Careers Adviser

How can I train to become an electrician? And where can I get guidance on my future?
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The Independent Online

Starting over

Q. I am 32 years old and am in need of a career change. I am very interested in becoming an electrician - can you advise me on the best way to go about this?

A. The main issue for those trying to get into the industry at this age is funding - it's scarcely available, and you will probably have to fund your course yourself. This is likely to cost £500 or above, but some colleges offer considerable discounts if, say, you are on benefits. The qualification you will need is the NVQ Level 3 in electrotechnical services. This will entitle you to the certification proving you are competent to work for companies that are members of the industry body, the Electrical Contractors' Association ( www.eca.co.uk). The NVQ is the industry-recognised course, and is made up of two elements - theory and practice.

For the latter you will need an employer prepared to support you. Search the ECA website for a list of their registered employers in your area and write to them explaining that you would like to train, enclosing a CV. It may well also be worth ringing around local contractors to see if they are recruiting.

Ask your local college and Job Centre if they are aware of adult training schemes. The ECA advises you to beware of any "fast track" schemes and make sure you get the right practical experience - it's vital to completing the qualification. JTL ( www.jtltraining.com) and Summit Skills, the relevant skills council, ( www.summitskills.org.uk) can both offer impartial advice and information. For funding advice, speak to your local college.

At a crossroads

Q. Is there is a way of getting advice on what career you would be good at and enjoy? I'm not sure what to pursue. At the moment I am taking a gap year (and hope to go to university afterwards). I realise I should try and do some work in an area that I would want to go on and study and have a career in.

A. It's common not to know what you want to do at this stage, but sensible to start thinking. It might be possible to get advice from a prospective university but you would need to check. Your old careers teacher might also be able to help.

You will, however, get free help from the Connexions service in England (or its equivalent in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) up until the age of 19. Look up degrees that interest you in Prospects Planner ( www.prospects.ac.uk) and then look at the Occupations section on the same site for more details of what jobs involve. Learndirect ( www.learndirect-advice.co.uk) also has good careers information and job studies on its site. Once you have a few ideas, start looking at job vacancies to see the sort of thing employers are asking for. That way you avoid a common mistake - thinking you know what a job involves and finding the reality is different!

Work experience at any level is useful and can be used to try out jobs. It may not matter too much what subject you choose at university - except in obvious areas like science, medicine and some business specialisms, most employers will accept graduates of any discipline. It's important while at university to get work experience and acquire relevant interests - for example, if you want to be a journalist, you don't have to do media studies, but it is advisable to do some student journalism.

Remember, too, that careers advice is available from day one, not only in the final year.

Careers adviser: Gill Sharp, E adviser with Graduate Prospects.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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