In-job training: throwing some light on it

The Electrical Distributors Association (EDA) has introduced a series of Product Knowledge Modules to help wholesalers improve the product knowledge of their staff. But maybe it has a broader appeal?

Michael Gove (UK Member of Parliament whom history will not remember well) once said that ‘Britain has had enough of experts’. The on-line response was swift and to the point; if you’re tired of experts, try working with idiots.

The Light Review definition of an idiot is someone who is ignorant of knowledge but still insists on talking about it. Strangely, the word ‘idiot’ comes from the Greek ‘idios’ which means ‘self’, suggesting that if we’re looking for an idiot, we can do worse than look in the mirror.

Anyway; reducing the amount of ignorance in the world is a worthy endeavour and we should applaud EDA for their initiative, introducing 12 learning modules into their Product Knowledge Programme. The modules cover a wide range of product, typical of the materials and equipment that cross the wholesalers counter. I was taken with three of them, one that I hope I know all about (and so do my clients); one that I wish I knew more about (but manage to bluff my way through most of the time); and one that I talk about a lot and actually know very little (idiot!)

for our information, EDA is reporting that 2018 saw a 32% increase in the number of apprentices already in place with EDA members, so the introduction of this kind of distance-learning process should have a ready take-up.

Lighting (introduction):

This is the one that I hoped and assumed wouldn’t give me any grief, and – happy to say, I think I’d pass this one with flying colours.

This is the first lighting textbook I’ve read that doesn’t open with the biology of the eye and a section on vision – so thanks to Cameron Steel, the author, for sparing us that one. In fact, the content dives straight into the practicalities of light and lighting, discussing different types of application and the relative performance of light sources – all sensible stuff when the target market isn’t potential lighting designers, but a group of people who have to deal with the general public wandering in off the street asking about the lighting of their kitchens.

Beyond that, the Module content stays firmly in the realm of the helpful, looking at safety around lighting, the maintenance aspects of lighting installations and how we might use lighting control to afford good environmental practice to limit energy usage.

A small reservation: there’s a section titled ‘Basics of Lighting Design’; oh-oh, I thought. I belong to the school that says that designers are forged in the red-hot hell of the creative furnace – not sat at a desk or reading a module with a mug of cocoa. As The Incredible String Band has it ‘You know all the words and you sang all the notes, but you never quite learned the song’. But I’m going to be generous on this occasion, because I’m more than happy to talk to wholesaler staff who know some of the words and can at least recognise the tune.

Lighting (systems and controls):

I think I’m like most lighting designers when it comes to lighting controls; I know what I want them to do but then tiptoe quietly around the back of the lighting controls guy when it comes to explaining how it all works. So this module is great value for fleshing out some of the thinner areas of knowledge, though I’m not sure that many counter staff will get into detailed conversations about the relative merits of DALI, 1-10v or DMX controls.
Tell me that I’m wrong. Nevertheless, there’s a fair chance that this module might provide an edge when it comes to a contractor pitching up and asking if the wholesaler has a ‘cheaper one of these’.

For this overview on lighting controls, we hand over to Sam Woodward, who knows about these things. This module covers all the possible ways that you might want to control a light, short of throwing a bag over itnot recommended!), and I think it is excellent.

At the heart of lighting control are three simple conditions: I want to switch a light on; I want to switch a light off; I want to adjust the light output of a light. Oh, and sometimes I want to do all of that but with lots of lights, and all at once. From there on, we’re simply talking about the hardware. The problem being, of course, that it’s in the hardware where the subtlety lies and that’s why everyone should have a copy of this book somewhere close to hand.

So, as for its outreach, if I can learn from it, I’m pretty sure there’s a long queue behind me of lighting professionals in the same situation. Perhaps someone at EDA might like to think about the one.


As any responsible person who’s not President of the United States knows, we really need to get a grip on our energy generation, so when I saw ‘Renewables’ as one of the modules it felt an obvious choice. Here’ I thought, is an opportunity for knowledge to overcome gut feeling when it comes to shouting at people..

I’ll admit that I was assuming that we would be entering cradle-to-cradle design territory with this one, assuming that wholesalers would be taking a surprising interest in what we do with lighting fixtures when we’ve finished with them. Silly me.

Trevor Pickard picks up the gauntlet here, explaining that what this is about, and rightly so, is how we might go about doing something to mitigate climate change. And the BIG thing will be learning to generate carbon-free power into what is left of our collective futures.

The story arc of the Renewables module is built, inevitably, around the growing use of solar photovoltaic cells (PVs). Looking at both small and large scale, the Module then develops the argument to discuss electrical energy storage systems (batteries to you and me). That takes up half the book, and that makes sense given that, for most of us, PVs will be entry-point into generating renewable electricity.

Happily, the Module isn’t frightened to get into the charging of electric vehicles – not the straightforward plug-and-play that some adherents would like us to believe. The module notes that its reckoned wer have capacity for 1 million electric vehicles before the distribution networks start to fall over. 1 million cars – and that’s all. There’s work to be done, folks!

The other technologies that are covered are air-source and ground-source heat pumps, waste heat recovery systems – and wind turbines. I don’t think many EDA members will be selling on-shore wind farms over their counters, so just the 6 pages will suffice.

The final chapter looks at energy conservation, so the never-so-humble LED gets a look-in. And a couple of pages on power factor will do it for me every time. The scariest thing you can say to a ‘green architect’ designing an off-grid building is to suggest they check the PF on their LEDs before confirming the output of their PVs . . . other alphabet soup are available.

Anything else?

Sorry: my only excuse is that, having a certificate that claims that I’m an electrical engineer, I forgot that a lot of people
aren’t – lighting designers and specifiers in particular. .

For new readers: behind every luminaire there is a confusion of cables, connections,  switches, dimmers, fuses and all sorts of wondrous devices. The magi who know about these things are the guys who make our lighting designs work, so if we have a chance to learn their language, that can only be at good thing, yes?

The grimoire that takes us to that place is the volume that sits at the heart of the Product Knowledge Modules; Introduction to the Principles of Electricity (imagine it written in Latin and bound in the skin of a politician.

For the lighting specifier, information at this level isn’t about making electrical engineers out of them, but it can elevate the technical awareness around the project table when the electrical contractor starts going on about all the things that can’t be done. Again, I’ll leave that for the EDA to think about.

How does the Programme work?

  • The EDA appointed the Institution of Engineering and technology (IET) to prepare the distance-learning modules for the Product Knowledge Programme. The Programme is accredited by City & Guilds.
  • The Programme is only open to EDA members and is unique to EDA.
  • EDA managers select staff to undertake the modules. The text books that are issued to learners remain their property once the modules are completed, allowing future reference.
  • A 10-week period is allowed for working through each module and completing the End of Module Assessment. When the manager is satisfied that the learner is ready, an EMA is sent out. The learner then answers all of the set questions. The EMA is an ‘open book’ process, so the examinee can refer to the textbook during the EMA.
  • 4-6 weeks after the completed EMA is returned to EDA, the successful candidate receives a Certificate of Achievement.

For more information contact the EDA at:

And finally:

It warms the heart that each Module ends with a warning about counterfeit and non-compliant products. So happy am I about this, that I’ll repeat here the suggestions to avoid poor products:

  • Buy brands that you know, from people that you know and trust;
  • Check that products carry all relevant markings;
  • Check the general quality of finish of the products (jagged edges of mouldings or uneven paint finish may be an initial indicator for concern;
  • Check the quality of the markings on the product;
  • Beware of secondary packaging; and
  • If the price looks too good to be true – you’ve probably answered your question.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.


At the EDA Annual Awards Dinner on 7th March 2019 it was reported that almost 700 training modules have already been ordered by EDA sector members and manufacturers. Most popular is the Introduction to the Principles of Electricity, with the Introduction to Lighting in second place.

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