Q&A with Fiona Harper, SELECT head of employment affairs & secretary of the SJIB

Fiona Harper

Fiona Harper from SELECT, the trade association for electricians in Scotland, on how she faced up to her detractors who believed the construction industry was not the place for a woman.

My first job after university was with a bank in their debt collection department.  It wasn’t for me. After a lot of applications I got a job by chance with Babcock Construction Ltd as an Industrial Relations Officer.

My dad worked for Babcocks and his secretary was typing my CV, when it was left on a photocopier by mistake. It was found and passed to the Personnel Director who happened to be looking for an Industrial Relations Officer for Torness Power Station.

From there I went to Diamond Power Specialty Ltd (a sister company of Babcock International) as their Personnel Manager.

Then to the National Joint Council for the Engineering Construction Industry, initially as a Field Officer, then Head of Field Operations and laterally as Assistant Director. I moved from the NJC to SELECT in 2006 as Head of Employment Affairs and The Secretary of the SJIB.

Highlight the biggest projects you have been involved in

My first job in engineering construction was based at Torness Power Station whilst it was being built. There I dealt with industrial relations issues and Trade Union shop stewards.

After that – when I was with the NJC – I dealt with industrial relations issues at a regional and national level – again working with contractors and trade unions officers. I was involved with many projects throughout the UK including BP (now INEOS) Grangemouth, Sellafield, Sizewell B Power Station, projects for TOTAL, Mobil Oil, Shell at St Fergus near Peterhead and many more.

Where would you like to be in future?

My job at SELECT has grown with me. When I arrived, and as my job title indicates, I was employed to manage and deliver Employment Affairs on behalf of SELECT as well as run the SJIB (a partnership of employers with unite the union). Now I do that as well as internal Human Resources for SELECT and recently I was given responsibility for leading Strategic Skills & Qualifications portfolio for the electrotechnical sector in Scotland.

I am 58 and have had a fantastically interesting career. I have met a whole host of wonderful, interesting and passionate people along the way. I feel there is more I can do, and more I can offer. Of course, I would like recognition and promotion but, there is plenty to achieve with SELECT and it will take a while to get it right and I like to get things right.

What are your thoughts on your sector in terms of the number of females working in general and in higher positions?

The number of women in electrical contracting could and should be better.  It has improved since I first started but there is a long way to go.  There are many wives and partners who support their male partners in their business – they are in senior positions, but it is all taken for granted.  What’s more, there is no reason why they couldn’t also be the electrician?  In this day and age, there should be no barriers.

Could more be done to encourage women into construction?

Yes. The culture needs to change. Construction is a tough gig but there are as many strong (tough) women out there as men. We should live in a meritocracy. We need to open people’s minds and show them how exciting and creative the construction industry is.

We need to improve the image of construction and make it attractive to young girls, their families and their teachers. We need to get young people thinking about exciting, varied opportunities rather than hard hats and high-vis jackets. Women need flexible working packages so that they can blend their work life with their home life.

What has your employer and / or previous employers done to facilitate this?

From the very start of my career, I have had my detractors. There were people who I didn’t even know, yet had views on my ability to do my job. All of them believed the construction industry was not the place for a woman. However, each and every one of my employers has had faith in me and has given me the chance to prove my worth. I don’t think I have let any of them down and, because of that, I have either been recommended or head hunted for all of my positions since joining Babcocks.

Catch up with the rest of Scottish Construction Now’s International Women’s Day feature here.

SELECT delivers ‘vital’ training to building standards verification staff

The campaigning body for the electrotechnical trade in Scotland is delivering awareness training to local authority staff that carry out verification activities across Scotland.

The training, which is now in its third year, is a joint venture between SELECT, NICEIC and LABSS and is aimed at raising standards and awareness of new developments in safety and building standards.

Dave Forrester, head of technical services with SELECT, said: “Working closely with industry colleagues in the NICEIC and LABSS, we have developed vital training for those verifying the safety of Scotland’s built environment.

“In addition to the training, SELECT helps local authorities understand the benefits of certification and of employing properly trained and qualified professionals for all projects.”

The series of eight training events are being held throughout February and cover all 32 local authorities under the aegis of Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS).

This year’s training, which has been developed in response to the Grenfell tragedy in London, and lessons learnt from the Cole Report following the collapse of a wall in Oxgangs Primary, includes revised standards for fire safety and fire detection/alarm systems.

In addition, training in preparation for the introduction of a new edition of BS 7671 – The IET Wiring Regulations, published this year on July 1, will be included in the events.

SELECT’s close working relationship with the Scottish Government’s Building Standards Division (BSD) will continue with the recent appointment of Stephen Garvin as the new Head of BSD.

Mr Forrester said: “I welcome the appointment of Stephen to this position. He has a long-standing history of expertise in building standards and I look forward greatly to working with him to forward the cause of certification of construction.”

Trade body demands lower Project Bank Accounts threshold in wake of Carillion collapse

Newell McGuiness

The wave of uncertainty which rocked the construction industry in the wake of the collapse of industry giant Carillion has led to renewed calls for increased regulation regarding payment security from Scotland’s largest trade association.

SELECT, the campaigning body for the electrotechnical trade in Scotland, has added its voice to many others, including the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group (SEC Group), which are calling for a lowering of the threshold at which Project Bank Accounts (PBAs) become mandatory and for PBAs to be universally required.

Presently, all Scottish Government bodies must include a PBA – which is a retained account earmarked for payment of contractors and ring fenced from spending – for all building projects over £4.1 million.

Bodies such as SELECT and the SEC Group, however, wish to see the Scottish Government lower the threshold of applicability to projects valued at £2m.

Newell McGuiness, managing director of SELECT, said: “The crisis which has surrounded the construction industry since the collapse of Carillion illustrates perfectly why payment protection is required.

“The Scottish Government had the foresight to introduce Project Bank Accounts two years ago and now is the time for them to reinforce that foresight with a proactive, forward-looking legislative agenda and to provide a safety net for the SMEs which are building Scotland’s future infrastructure.”

Mr McGuiness added: “Having a PBA in place would provide peace of mind, not just for our members, but for all of Scotland’s SMEs, who work in the construction industry in Scotland. This legislation could arrest the ‘domino effect’ that can devastate an industry in the event of another collapse like Carillion.”

SELECT has 1,250 member companies who account for around 90% of all electrical installation work carried out in Scotland, have a collective turnover of around £1 billion and provide employment for 15,000 people.

Darrell Matthews to succeed Newell McGuinness as SELECT MD

Darrell Matthews

Scotland’s electrotechnical trade organisation SELECT has appointed Darrell Matthews as its new managing director, replacing Newell McGuinness who has been in post for more than 13 years.

SELECT is Scotland’s largest trade association with a membership that carries out more than 90% of all electrical installation work in the country. With a turnover of more than £1 billion the industry provides employment for 15,000 people.

Darrell joins SELECT as MD Designate in March and will progressively take over from Newell.

He said: “I am genuinely delighted to be the next MD of SELECT. I know this is a successful, well-resourced and very effective trade association and I look forward to working with Members, staff and the wider industry to take SELECT to the next level.

“Newell has done a tremendous job and filling his shoes won’t be easy but this is an organisation which is keen to grow and to promote its members and create a safer and better regulated industry.”

Darrell has a wide range of commercial experience gained in representational organisations in several sectors. His most recent roles have been as a director with the Institute of Directors, EEF and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Kevin Griffin, SELECT president, welcomed Darrell’s selection.

He said: “Darrell was the outstanding candidate from a long list of applicants. I am sure he will build on the excellent progress made by SELECT under Newell’s guidance and he has the full support of the Central Board to do so.

“I am sure all of our Members will support Darrell and will provide him with a warm Scottish welcome.”

Newell said: “I have every confidence in Darrell and know he will do a fine job. SELECT is a great organisation and I am proud to have played my part in its development.”

SELECT campaign for official recognition boosted by new government working group

Newell McGuiness

An influential working group has been established in the Scottish Government to look into “Protection of Title” for professional electricians and to create “an inhospitable environment” for untrained traders posing as qualified tradesmen.

The creation of the group is the latest stage in a concerted campaign by SELECT, the trade body for the electrotechnical trade in Scotland, for official recognition of qualified electricians in the interests of public safety.

The campaign asks the Scottish Government to accept and legislate for the fact that electricians undergo an intensive training akin to that required for other professional qualifications and to agree that their skills should be protected.

Colin Beattie, the SNP MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, who has reiterated his support for the registration of electricians, pressed the government last month about the membership of the group and its remit.

Keith Brown, cabinet secretary for the economy, jobs and fair work, said in a written answer that group has been established to explore how best to respond to the challenge of ensuring the safety of electrical installations in Scotland.

The membership reflects industry, safety and consumer interests. It includes representatives from SELECT, Scottish Joint Industry Board, Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust, Electrical Safety First, NICEIC, Unite the union, RoSPA, Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Newell McGuiness, SELECT managing director, said: “The working group is committed to three key outcomes: protecting consumers; protecting properly qualified electricians and creating an inhospitable environment for rogues.”

Government statistics have shown that 69% of all accidental fires in Scottish homes are caused by electricity and unqualified workers pose a distinct and continuing threat to safety in Scottish homes.

SELECT’s aim is the delivery of the highest standards of professionalism and workmanship. It promotes constant improvement to meet this goal. It believes that the industry should ensure high standards of safety and competence so that any customer can rely on any electrician he or she may employ.

SELECT launches new series of technical videos to reach out to electrical profession

Dave Forrester

Dave Forrester, head of technical services at SELECT

The campaigning body for the electrotechnical trade in Scotland has built on the resounding success of its nationwide Toolbox Talks initiative with the launch of a series of technical videos which will be of immediate value to electrical practitioners.

The professionally produced series of technical update films, created by SELECT’s own technical team, begins with a 20-minute presentation on surge protection and its connection to current standards.

With a straightforward, accessible narration, the first video uses a mix of live video, text and diagrams to explain the dangers of surge protection and the measures that can be taken to protect a variety of installations.

The videos can be viewed on a selection of mobile devices, such as phones, tablets and laptops, meaning that they will be instantly available to electrical professionals wherever they are working.

Dave Forrester, head of technical services at SELECT, said: “In our Toolbox Talks series, which toured Scotland to great acclaim again this year, we discussed issues of immediate importance to the electrical profession.

“But while the Talks reach audiences of hundreds of interested people, the new video series will allow us to reach out to a far bigger number of professionals at times and places which suit them.”

Surge protection was chosen as the first topic because of the effect it can have on electrical installations. The narrative focused on what can be done to protect sensitive equipment connected to these installations.

It also covered surge protection devices, SPD terminology, British Standards, the selection and erection of SPDs and their future development.

Mr Forrester said: “Things like IT equipment are particularly susceptible, even to indirect lightning strikes. Even turning equipment on and off can introduce spikes and voltage which can be harmful to sensitive equipment.”

SELECT’s 1250 member companies account for around 90% of all electrical installation work carried out in Scotland. They have a collective turnover of around £1 billion and provide employment for 15,000 people.

The videos can be viewed here.

SELECT welcomes building standards review and calls for mandatory use of approved certifier schemes

Dave Forrester

Dave Forrester

The campaigning body for Scotland’s electrotechnical trade has called on the Scottish Government to seize the chance of a new review into building standards to make sure that its own approved certifier schemes become mandatory across the construction industry.

A Review Panel on Building Standards (Compliance and Enforcement) was prompted by an independent report into the closure of 17 Edinburgh schools last year after the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary, and the subsequent tragic events this year at Grenfell Tower in London.

Industry body SELECT welcomed the review panel and said that it looked forward to working with the relevant bodies with a view to helping to introduce real change into the Scottish building standards system.

Dave Forrester, head of technical services at SELECT, said: “Parts of the building standards regime work very well at the moment. Technical standards, for instance, are flexible enough to accommodate change and innovation.

“However, there are a number of issues surrounding approved certification which we think the review could profitably address in order to remove anomalies and build confidence in the certification process.”

Mr Forrester pointed out that approved certifiers are directly responsible for the work that is certified under a building warrant. Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS), the membership organisation representing verifiers, has issued guidelines regarding certification services.

Some local authorities, however, are still either unaware of or ignoring the LABSS guidance and accepting forms of certification without detailed scrutiny.

Mr Forrester said: “The review is an excellent and thoughtful response to the issues raised by recent tragic events. It is an opportunity to really consider the regime of compliance and enforcement and to embrace meaningful change.

“This is the ideal moment to make it a mandatory requirement to use the existing approved certifier schemes, particularly for Government-funded work, and to extend the process to all Schedule 3 work [work subject to building regulations but not requiring a warrant].”

SELECT, Scotland’s largest trade association has over 1250 member companies who account for around 90% of all electrical installation work carried out in Scotland. They have a collective turnover of around £1 billion and provide employment for 15,000 people.

Scottish electrical apprenticeship numbers rise to nearly pre-recession heights


An air of confidence in Scotland’s electrical sector has led to the fifth year-on-year increase in the number of apprentices attracted to the industry, according to SELECT, the industry’s campaigning trade body.

A combination of greater employment opportunities, and increased optimism regarding future employability has meant a 6% increase in electrical apprenticeship numbers, with 750 people signed up to begin apprenticeships or adult training schemes run by the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) this year.

This rise in apprenticeship numbers – a key target of the Scottish Government, as well as Skills Development Scotland (SDS) – continues the steady upwards trend since the 2007-2008 recession. The increases in the electrical industry have outpaced apprenticeship numbers in comparable trades, such as plumbers or joinery apprenticeships.


Anne Galbraith, chief executive of SECTT, said: “At the pre-recession peak, we were training more than 900 new apprentices yearly,  some of whom were placed with SELECT’s member companies, and going on to become the skilled tradesmen of the future.


“The encouraging yearly increases have brought us to the point where new apprentices are catching up with the natural wastage of those retiring, moving on, or leaving the UK. Electrical apprenticeships from Scotland are recognised throughout the world as some of the most in-depth professional training available.”


Of the new apprentices, 136 are adult trainees – many who have previously worked in the construction industry, but have no formal qualifications. They will join 2700 apprentices over the three stages of training, at one of the 20 approved centres that run from Shetland to the Borders. 


SECTT is a non-profit making organisation that is concerned only with the training of apprentices within the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB) apprenticeship scheme. The SJIB training scheme is the only industry approved training scheme for electrical contracting apprenticeships in Scotland.


Anne Galbraith said: “Unlike commercial training providers, money is not our god. We work with the excellent support of SELECT to supply the best service, and most rigorous training, and provide the country with the finest quality electricians.”

Lifetime Achievement Award for renowned UK construction expert at SELECT ceremony

Jock Simpson (left) and Neil MacEachern from Schneider Electric

Jock Simpson (left) and Neil MacEachern from Schneider Electric

One of the outstanding figures in British industry has been given a Lifetime Achievement Award by SELECT, the campaigning trade body for the electrotechnical industry in Scotland.

The award recognises that, over a long and distinguished career, Jock Simpson has been at the heart of the energy and electrical industries and his expertise, wisdom and experience have had a beneficial effect on many people’s lives.

Mr Simpson is executive chairman of the National Joint Council for the Engineering Construction Industry, a partnership between trades unions and employers, and chairman of the Scottish Joint Industry Board, a partnership between SELECT and Unite the Union.

He also has extensive experience in the energy industry, including senior roles with major organisations such as British Energy and npower.

Newell McGuiness, SELECT managing director, said: “Jock Simpson has worked tirelessly throughout his career to enhance employee-employer relations and has had to exercise the judgement of Solomon in often very testing situations.

“His skills in industrial relations, negotiation, change management and strategic planning have often been instrumental in keeping competing parties together, agreeing on difficult issues and seeking compromises.

“He has taken on heavy responsibilities, reached to the top in a variety of different areas and has always acted in the best interests of everyone working in the industry, from shop floor to boardroom.”

The award was presented by sponsor Schneider Electric, at a gathering at the Radisson Blu in the centre of Glasgow hosted by journalist Keith Aitken.

It was attended by a wide range of companies, from major electrical enterprises to local firms, illustrating the diversity and strength of Scotland’s electrical sector.

Before the formal proceedings, Mr McGuiness, who is stepping down early next year after 12 years as MD, was presented with a special award honouring his service to the organisation.

Taking the top SELECT award was a firm which was established only a year ago.

Named as Electrical Contractor of the Year, Servest Arthur Mackay Ltd was formed when facilities management services provider Servest acquired Edinburgh-based building services contractor Arthur Mackay.

The new company, which excels across a number of sectors, was also declared joint winner of the award for the Best Use of Training.

Mr McGuiness said: “This company has demonstrated that while it is firmly fixed on a growth trajectory, it is also looking after the continuing professional development interests of its thousands of staff.”

Other awards were:

  • Best Small Contractor, won by Glasgow electrical company Interlink Lighting and Electrical.
  • Apprentice of the Year, won by Jordan McBain, from Elgin, who works with Highland company G & A Barnie Building Services.
  • Wholesaler Apprentice of the Year, a new category, won by Kellan Pirie, from Inverurie, who works with Electric Center.
  • Best New Product, won by South Manchester-based Wylex, for its consumer units.
  • Best Delivery of Customer Service, won by Lanarkshire-based Crown House Technologies.
  • Best Visual Promotion, won by Edinburgh-based AKD Systems.
  • Best Electrical Safety Product, won by Glasgow firm Edmiston Brown for its work on the Falkirk canal tunnel.

Newell McGuiness added: “Each year, it is a much-anticipated pleasure to recognise the dedication, commitment and investment in the future which companies bring to this competition.

“As they do in their day-to-day business dealings, they have gone the extra mile in these awards to demonstrate that the electrical sector in Scotland is in good hands and is continuing to burnish its reputation for quality, skill and excellence.”

Ministers urged to act over Scotland’s 2,000 ‘unqualified’ electricians

Newell McGuiness

Newell McGuiness

Up to 2,000 unqualified electrical businesses are potentially putting the safety of the Scottish public at risk, the electrical contractors’ association of Scotland has warned.

As part of its campaign to regulate the profession of electrician, SELECT undertook an in-depth research exercise to establish that a total of 103 electricians were trading in the representative local authority area of East Lothian.

In a letter sent to Scottish Government, SELECT, whose 1250 members carry out more than £1 billion’s worth of the country’s electrical work, said: “We looked at how many of these were current members of SELECT, were registered with the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) and finally, those who were registered with the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB).

“From the data, we discovered that of the 103, 30 were SELECT Members, 12 were registered with the NICEIC and 25 were registered with the SJIB. We could not find any record of any qualification for the remaining 36.”

It added: “If this is then extrapolated, there is an average of 0.36 unqualified electricians per 1000 head of population. According to the Scottish Government’s own statistics, Scotland has a population of 5.39M which suggests that there are at least 1940 unqualified electricians.”

The letter goes on to provide a chart showing the number of likely unqualified electricians trading in each authority area plus the search criteria SELECT used.

SELECT Electrician as a Profession - Case for Regulation Report front coverNewell McGuinness, the managing director of SELECT, led a delegation to see Keith Brown MSP cabinet secretary for the economy, jobs and fair work, to discuss the issue of rogue electricians.

Mr McGuinness said: “Our research has established that there are significant numbers of individuals trading as electricians without holding qualifications.

“This is an issue which the Scottish Government must address as a matter of urgency. The opinion submitted previously from our constitutional law experts has established that the Government has the power to act. The Scottish population, the vulnerable, the young and the old must be protected from rogues who do nothing to help our economy. These people do not train apprentices; they often avoid paying proper taxes and more likely than not, carry out unsafe and potentially dangerous work.

“One of the key points that we have emphasised repeatedly is that many of the faults they leave behind are latent and are unlikely to be recognisable to members of the public.

“There will be no extra cost applied as a result of any action to regulate, customers will not face higher bills, properly qualified electricians will not have to undertake any additional training and the Government will neither have to set up or manage a scheme for registration as this already exists. The only losers will be unqualified electricians, and Ministers would surely not wish to be seen as their defenders.

“Our case, which has all party support, is compelling. We expect Ministers, now they are in possession of the answers to the questions posed, to work with the industry, employers and our trade union colleagues, to introduce a legal framework to regulate the industry, and initially at least to provide Protection of Title for properly qualified Electricians.”

SELECT has emphasised the length and quality of training that electricians undertake and the benefits of regulation. It has also called on the Scottish Government to create a new offence of working while unqualified to do so.