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For 27 years, George sailed the world as a Nautical Electro-Technical Officer and Marine Radio Officer, before returning to dry land as a sparky. He shares his insight into an evolving industry.

Name: George Robertson

Company: G Robertson Electrical Contractors

Location: Faversham, Kent

Why did you become an electrician?

I didn’t start out as an Electrician. I left school and spent three years at Nautical College to become a Marine Radio Officer with the Merchant Navy. For the next 12 years I travelled the world on Passenger ships, Bulk Carriers and Tankers. The advent of satellite communications put an end to the Radio Officers job so I went back to college and finished my HND.

I then went back to sea and sailed as an Electro-Technical Officer (formerly known as an Electrical Engineering Officer) and spent my last 15 years of my seagoing career on the Dover-Calais Ferries, looking after everything from the variable pitch propeller control system to the deep fat fryers in the galley.

In 2005 I took early retirement and started a small electrical business. Since then things have blossomed and I have a list of longstanding, steady customers, both in the domestic field and the agricultural. Last month I spent time repairing a hop picking machine first built in 1959: quite a challenge.         

That’s a busy career! What’s the most interesting job you’ve worked on over the years?

I once took a new build ship out of a dockyard in Japan: “Kasado” dockyard, a small Japanese yard right in the middle of a national park. It was the most serene, beautiful place you could imagine.

That was great, but recently I’ve been involved in outfitting a large Canadian manufactured greenhouse, the first of its type in this country. Liaising with the Canadian Manufacturers and the makers of the control systems in Los Angeles was a job in itself.

What do you enjoy most about your job now?

Well, almost everything. I’ve always enjoyed being my own boss, deciding the hours I work, what job I’m going to do and who I will work for – and you can never tell where one job is going to lead.

I have clients that I’ve worked for every year since I started on my own. They know and trust me and I’ve never had to advertise. All my work comes through word of mouth, and that makes me feel good. I feel lucky that I’m in a position where I can pick and choose what I want to do.

What are the biggest challenges facing electricians?

I think there have always been challenges facing electricians. The original Sparks who spent hours laying cloth covered singles in beautifully crafted wooden containment must have wondered what would happen to their jobs with the advent of lead covered cable.

The truth is things are always changing and that change seems to be coming at a quicker rate than ever. So I think the great challenge is facing that change and, if not accepting it with open arms, then at least realising that it’s happening and coming up with ways to deal with it.

You test products for the trade press – what has it taught you about product innovation?

Well it’s difficult to keep up with the number of new, improved or redesigned products on the market but it can be worth it.

It’s not that long ago that using a set of rods to help install cable would have been thought of as an unnecessary expense when a trunking lid was available. But time is money and everything that saves you time during installation puts a few more pounds in your pocket.

We shouldn’t be afraid to take up new innovative products and procedures.

Do you think manufacturers are doing enough to make electrician’s jobs easier?

Manufacturers are trying their best. Nobody wants to produce a new product that’s not going to be used, although sometimes it seems that certain pieces have been designed by someone who’s never even talked to an electrician, let alone had any idea of how they work.

Feedback is probably the key here: finding out from the people who have to fit and use your products everyday what they think and whether they think improvements could be made.    

What problem-solving technology is most in demand?

The ability to control everything in your home from your phone is being asked for more and more. I’m already fitting home heating systems with the ability to monitor and control the temperature in each individual room in a house, and I’m being asked if that can be included with added surveillance, security and fire detection all integrated into one system with one control. It can indeed, and the price seems to be dropping rapidly.    

What technology still causes a headache?

We probably all have our personal bugbears. LED dimming was mine for a while, but I’m glad to say certain manufacturers seem well on the way to overcoming those problems. 

Aside from LED, anything to do with the app controlled systems I’ve talked about. Get it right and it’s wonderful. Get a buggy, unwieldy control system and simple things become complicated.