Twentieth anniversary portraits: Reuben Smith of SWAT Gas Services

09 Apr 2024

In the first of several interviews with key figures in our history, we catch up with Reuben Smith, Owner and Director of SWAT Gas Services in the West Midlands. His centre was one of the first to be approved by LCL Awards and SWAT have been offering their learners our qualifications for two decades now. We’ll let Reuben take it from here:

“I set up SWAT with my dad, Chris, back in 1999. We’re a family-owned and run business to this day and our relationship with LCL Awards, or Logic Certification as they were called back then, has been a longstanding and productive one. Funny how the years go by, we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year as LCL celebrate their twentieth.

“It was an interesting time for the gas industry back shortly before the Millennium. The gas Approved Certification Scheme (ACS) had been brought in to raise standards. Before then we were in a situation where the legislation was a bit lax, and it was possible for almost anyone to install a boiler! The industry wanted to police the rogues, protect the public and ensure that the work engineers were carrying out across the UK was up to scratch. As you know, ACS requires gas engineers to be re-assessed every five years and that helped us – and I think possibly Kevin and Gayle Budd (founders of LCL Awards) – to see a gap in the market.

“When we set up SWAT, we were unusual - private training centres were in their infancy. Back then, most gas engineers were trained at colleges or trained with the gas companies themselves. There was a focus on young learners, and it was difficult for independent installers to find places that they could do the e-assessment qualifications that ACS required.  We were able to provide experienced installers with the flexible training and re-assessment they needed.

“My father and I had both been trained by British Gas – most decent engineers were, back then. When the gas industry was privatised in 1986 things changed and when my father was made redundant, he used his pay-off to set up SWAT Gas Services. 

“Initially, there was a limited choice of Certification Bodies. The one we were with originally was ok, but they were used to working with colleges and large institutions and weren’t nimble enough for the likes of us. 

“Kevin and Gayle, with their private-business mindset, shook things up a bit. The fact that they ran their own training centre, Logic4training, gave them real insight into the business – they were able to see things from both sides. They regarded their learners as customers rather than pupils and this made a big difference to the way they treated us too. 

“I think it would be fair to say that LCL has been responsible for cultural changes over the years that have influenced the other CBs. They are progressive and because they’re agile they’re able to respond quickly to changes within industry.  In the past they’ve helped us develop small-scale niche qualifications for some of our commercial customers. There’s no way that most of the other Certification Bodies would even think of doing that!

“The staff at LCL are terrific, they’re pleasant to deal with and will do all they can to help. Amanda and her department are a credit to them and when improvements, such as the online assessment system are brought in, LCL Awards staff are on the end of the phone to help ensure we have the back-up we need. 

“The relationship we have with LCL Awards is based on respect. We’ve haven’t always seen eye-to-eye and there’s been the odd robust discussion, but it’s a healthy relationship and we’ve been able to resolve whatever the issues have been because we each honour the other’s opinions.

“The future of our industry is at a turning point and it’s frustrating that the government seems to lack the vision required to commit fully to a greener future. We work with our customers to help them adapt – we’re working with many of our bigger clients to help them up-skill their workforce, so that whatever comes their way they’ll be equipped, and LCL is up at the front developing the qualifications and training resources we will all need.

“Although we’re still ostensibly a gas training centre, we are slowly introducing renewables qualifications, but until the government fully commits to change it’s difficult for companies like ours to make the decisions we’d like to. It’s a big decision to invest in renewables qualifications and the equipment we need to run the courses, and until we feel confident the UK is fully committed to establishing a decent renewables pathway, progress will inevitably be slow. 

“Businesses need to be adaptable, savvy and smart these days. I like to think we are, and I know that LCL Awards are. I look forward to continuing our relationship. It’s reassuring to know that our Certification Body is working hard to uphold standards and support us in our delivery of their qualifications now and in the future – as they have done in the past.”

To find out more about SWAT Gas Services and the training they provide in the West Midlands, please click here.