Profile of an EWRB member

Mike Macklin is a self-employed registered electrical inspector based in Darfield. Mike was previously a director for a large New Zealand switchboard and switchgear company and is now the Deputy Presiding Member of Electrical Workers Registration Board. He’s been a board member for the past ten years.

Electron spoke with Mike about how he came to be a board member, the benefits of being on the board and some of the challenges and surprises the role has presented.

What’s your background in the electrical industry?

I began as an apprentice electrician in 1971 and registered in 1974. I worked for a short time in the industry before changing careers. I retained my registration and did some part-time electrical work. After some time out of the industry I returned to full-time electrical work, focussing on the sales and manufacturing of switchboards.

When I came back to the industry; I re-skilled myself - I completed some courses and made sure that I was up to play with the standards in the industry. I found that I still enjoyed the work, which was to my surprise in some ways!

How did you become an EWRB member?

At first I wasn’t overly aware of the Electrical Workers Registration Board. I was aware that there was a Registrar but hadn’t really taken any notice of the system and how it operated. I used to read Electron religiously (this was back when it was a hard copy) and I saw this advert looking for new board members and I thought, “that’s interesting, but it’s not for me” and didn’t apply. However a few years later I saw another advert in Electron for a board member position and by this time I’d become aware of how people criticised the Board. I guess I was one of those people and I thought, “you should never criticise a body unless you know how it operates”.

I applied for the role, not really thinking that it was going to go anywhere, to my surprise, I got a phone call saying that I was going to be interviewed for the position. I found that an extremely daunting interview – it was out of my comfort zone by a long way!

What did the interview involve?

It involved all sorts of questions about governance. Luckily I was already a board member of the business I worked for at the time, so I had some experience but I didn’t think I spoke that type of language. The questions were very soul-searching and that surprised me. I can always remember leaving the interview - I flew home and the first thing my wife asked me was, “how did that go?” and my reply was “I don’t think it went very well!”. To my delight I got a phone call a while later to say my application had been approved and I was going to be a board member.

What kind of support did you receive when becoming a board member?

I went to an induction day and met three other new board members. We said we all felt a bit nervous starting off.

The induction process, while a little daunting, gave us clarity around what our role was and how to handle the role going forward. I found the presiding member and Registrar to be very helpful throughout the whole induction process.

We had our first meeting in Auckland and I felt a big sense of responsibility. A courier delivered the papers. There was a large full size box of paper and it weighed 9 kg! It included papers and files that my predecessor has written on – all to be considered for that month. Thank goodness these papers are now delivered digitally.

Once I got into the routine of hearings I realised the importance of reading everything and the absolute importance of being familiar with the act and the relevant regulations. Fortunately I am a person that has always enjoyed the details of regulations and standards.

How do you think a lay board member would find the regulations?

The lay person would find the technicality of it a little confusing but the regulatory side of it and the act should be understandable to most people. When it comes to the technical details of how something’s wired or constructed they wouldn’t be so familiar. However that’s why there’s a lay person on the board – you need someone to look from the other side and say, “hey guys turn around, this is how it is”.

What are the benefits of you being on the board?

The first few months were daunting - I felt like a fish out of water with the process. Once I gained confidence and became familiar with the process, I found it very rewarding – and still do.

I learnt that it wasn’t as it appeared. You can’t just make changes because someone thinks it’s a good idea – decisions are made for the good of all. In governance there are reasons for everything and it’s not about making selfish decisions.

I learnt that everyone in the trade – me included – needs to keep upskilling. We need to know the changes in standards and what’s going on otherwise we can easily fall into the trap of being non-compliant which can lead to unsafe work. I became acutely aware of this and in turn ensured our staff became aware of it too.

On a personal level I found becoming a board member so rewarding. I’ve found it stimulates the desire for me to learn more, which is good for anyone – so much so that it led to me sitting my inspector’s exams and became an inspector. That was a direct result of being a board member and I could see the benefits of improving myself.

What challenges have you faced as a board member?

The biggest challenge is when we’re dealing with a disciplinary matter because you are dealing with someone’s life and personal feelings and the person is generally stressed. That can be quite a challenge. You need to show compassion whilst ensuring the regulatory objects are met. I have found that most people who are facing a disciplinary hearing do not take it lightly. It has a large impact on their lives and it is definitely taken seriously by the majority of people that we meet.

If you are going to do the job properly, there is a big time commitment – it isn’t just a three day job. You’d need to have your employer on board and they would need to know that there will be the odd time when things won’t be as predictable as you’d necessarily like.

What skills would be required to do the role?

You need time management skills, empathy and the ability to not pre-judge. You have to be able to listen and take on board the complete circumstances of a situation. If someone is found to have breached a rule, you need to understand the impact of disciplining them with a penalty.

A common misconception is around the perception of ‘light’ penalties. People don’t understand that quite often by the time the Board considers a penalty, the individual has already gone to considerable costs to improve themselves and their learning. They may have taken steps to fix the issue and meet the standards by taking additional training, going to the person who was affected and re-doing the work, or financially compensating the affected person. We need to take the circumstances of each situation and what has been done to redress the issue into account.

What words of advice would you offer someone looking to join the board?

Don’t be put off – put your application in and be prepared for some hard work and hard decisions. Have a very open mind to learning. I learn something new every meeting!

If you’re looking for something rewarding, this could be for you – it’s not easy but it’s rewarding.

I think you have to be aware that sometimes you can be dealing with very moving circumstances. I’ve dealt with some fatalities and they are very daunting to deal with. It doesn’t matter what side of the argument you’re on, no one wants that outcome. It’s moving, stressful and you never forget – it’s something that stays with you.

I think board members definitely benefit from the continual learning process that being a board member offers.

How has the industry changed from when you first started out?

The industry has changed through technology and there are now a whole raft of standards to follow. I believe that following the standards gives you good guidance, whereas before a lot was left to interpretation. We are now offered the guidance we need to do safe, compliant work.

There has also been an increase in women in the industry and this change is good for the future of the electrical industry.

One of the positive changes that I feel the board has made in recent years is in meeting the people we’re working with. We’re endeavouring to make the board a more open and accessible group of people. We have organised ‘meet and greet’ sessions in areas around New Zealand. I feel these meet and greets are very important. They put a face to the board and they show that we’re prepared to face up and put ourselves out there in front of the industry. The meetings are very engaging – we interact with electrical workers and hear sides of stories that we may never have heard without that interaction. They have become well attended as people become aware of them and we’ve received positive feedback that people like to see and hear from the board.

We do get some curly questions and we’ll always endeavour to get back to people with answers if we can’t answer questions accurately or fully at that time.