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Plant driver card scheme is a success

VIEWPOINT: Despite gripes, the CTA plant operator training scheme has changed the training culture

I LEFT the mines and quarries to join the construction industry in 1985. Most of my working life until that time had been within the confines of the Mines and Quarries Regulations. These require that all employees should not only be properly trained, but also appointed to their positions with the issue of a certificate of competency from the employer.

It was routine to issue these to drivers of forklifts, loaders, dumptrucks and excavators, quarrymen, miners and shotfirers, after formal training and a period of practical experience.

When I moved to the construction industry, I was surprised to discover there was no such system. Formal training was minimal and to widely differing standards. There was an urgent need for standards for the whole industry and, whatever scheme was set up, it had to be flexible to allow training providers and all the various types of company to participate. It also had to accommodate all types of plant and all types of operator.

This was a major task for the fledgling Certificate of Training Achievement (CTA) Scheme in an industry that had an itinerant workforce. It had to break new ground. It is clear that it has changed the culture of training within the industry.

The CTA's management committee has given it the direction that the industry, the unions and the Health and Safety Executive required, and talented and dedicated CITB staff have been involved with its development. This combination has ensured it is essentially a practical scheme with high standards.

So I have been annoyed to read the gripes of the few people disenchanted with the scheme.

It should not be forgotten that the vast majority of users and trainers within the scheme wholeheartedly support it. But some complaints are justified. The CTA has now moved to the confines of the NVQ framework and the City and Guilds has been imposing its will on the scheme.

There has been a confusing increase in paperwork, inspections and bureaucracy. To redress this situation, the CITB was asked to carry out an urgent review and streamlining should be completed by the end of this year. The CITB and the City and Guilds have been working closely and now believe they have got the balance about right.

Plant hirers can still do more to improve matters, however. Many companies still insist on operators paying for their own training, which is why many complain that the costs of registration and training are too high.

These companies should pay for the training of their own employees. They can, after all, claim the CITB grants that cover most of their costs, whereas the operators themselves cannot.

Meanwhile, further pressure from the government's 'Revitalising Health and Safety' initiative has persuaded contractors and their customers to demand the wider adoption of ICAs and NVQs. The Major Contractors Group (MCG) says it will want all operatives and craftsmen on their sites to be able to prove their competence by the end of 2003.

At present, most plant operators are not interested in achieving NVQs, which are a measure of competence. They are only interested in the CTA card, which means that they have achieved only a limited but safe standard of operation after basic training. The CTA card is familiar to them and well recognised on sites.

The CTA scheme has to progress into training for competence and this has already started. It will mean that after their basic training, which will not change, each operator will be required to keep a log of their practical experiences while working towards competence.

The ultimate goal of the CTA scheme is to improve the safety record of operated plant. When I look back to its launch in 1996, the change in training culture has been dramatic and accident records have improved.

There is still more to be done, so the scheme can only continue to change. There will be people who resist and complain, but this must not stop the scheme from delivering what employers, unions, the government and, ultimately, the plant operators themselves require.