PLANT operators have become the last major group to join the industry-wide Construction Skills Certification Scheme.
Contractors have welcomed the launch of the colour-coded Construction Plant Competence Scheme cards which will allow site managers to instantly distinguish between competent and less experienced operators.
CPCS will replace the long-established CTA scheme. More than 160,000 holders of CTA operator cards will start receiving CPCS cards and a log book from July.
From January 1 next year, the CTA card will not be valid on sites.
All existing cardholders will sent blue 'competent operator' cards, while new operators who pass their foundation tests will be given a red 'trained operator' card.
HBG workforce manager Charlie Law said: 'With so many hire companies coming onto our sites, the contractor often does not have a clue what each driver is like. We will now be able to differentiate between experienced and inexperienced operators by looking at the card and log book.'
Operators will need to have at least 300 hours' of experience signed off in their log books for each machine category to renew their cards (see box, above).
The scheme's managers challenged operators who believe log books are not necessary. CPCS committee member Trevor Gamble said: 'Competence is about delivering skills on a regular basis, and you need to prove it, which is what the log books are for.
'I have not driven an excavator for 30 years. That means I cannot say I am competent. I believe the log books will be ultimately of more value than the card itself.
'If there is a problem with operation of a particular machine, the log book will tell the people managing the operator what his background is.'
Scheme chairman John Gladstone laid down a warning to CPCS accredited trainers that also issue their own cards.
'If a driver has an in-house training card that doesn't amount to anything, he should come to us and we will investigate.'
The CPCS was formed after the plant operator sector signed up to the industrywide CSCS skills programme. NPORS and Lantra are also signed to the scheme and their operators will also receive blue cards endorsed with the company logos.
Mr Gladstone said four other schemes are in negotiations to join, and could be brought on stream within months if they met all the criteria.
The CPCS is also looking to bring in another 12 machine categories, as well as considering endorsements of specific machines in broader categories, such as crawler cranes.
It is also looking at ways to get newly trained operators the practical experience required to get on site.
Mr Gamble said the replacement of CTA with CPCS marked a new era for operators. 'Today we wipe the slate clean.
We have given up our identity for the benefit of the industry.'
Significantly, the scheme is no longer managed by the CITB as it has become part of the CSCS administration.
Mr Gamble added: 'It is vitally important that users understand the scheme is run by the management committee and not the CITB. If users don't like what we are doing, they should go back to the confederations we represent and tell them.'
What happens next?
BLUE 'competent operator' cards (above left) will be sent out to existing operators, along with log books.
To renew their cards, operators will need at least 300 hours' experience on each of their machine categories signed off in their log book before their next renewal date, which will be the same as it was for their CTA card.
If the renewal date is less than five years away, the hours needed will be reduced pro rata. For example, if the next renewal is due in three years, operators will only need to log a minimum of 180 hours. But if that is impossible they can take a skills assessment on site.
CPCS said the changeover will not cost the operator anything, but added that it is too early to set a price for the five year renewals.
New operators will get a red 'trained operator' card (above right) after completing their foundation course, but will then need to record the 300 hours within three years and pass an NVQ assessment to convert to a blue card.
For further information, call the CPCS hotline on 01485 577877.