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Testing times for the plant sector

The relaunched CPCS scheme ushers in a greater emphasis on testing. By David Taylor

A small fanfare of publicity attended the news of the first trainee to be awarded the new Construction Plant Competence Scheme red card in August this year. For the CPCS, this was a milestone that marked the end of lengthy and often controversial consultation with the industry over the relaunch of the scheme.

Another significant milestone for CPCS was reached at the end of November. The old CPCS scheme, which had attracted criticism during its lifetime, was finally phased out, leaving the new scheme as effectively the only industry-wide plant operator training scheme for general plant.

A month on and the world of plant training has not collapsed, despite dire warnings of delays and a backlog of qualified operators. One of the main changes brought in with the revised scheme is a greater emphasis on testing.

The new test comprises an oral theory section, face to face with the tester, and a technical component, conducted with the relevant piece of equipment.

With the new test has come the creation of a network of CPCS-approved test centres which are required to provide certain basic facilities, such as a designated area for technical testing and a training room in which to conduct the theory test.

“Now, with a designated test centre, the conditions can be preinspected and approved,” says CPCS spokesman Mark Bodger.

With the tightening up of testing has come a deregulation of training – which provoked controversy when first mooted over a year ago. According to the manager of one CPCS-approved test centre, the calibre and capabilities of training staff has always proved controversial.

“I’ve heard of trainers who haven’t touched a machine for 10 years or more. There has never been any sort of career progression for a plant trainer and although there were plans for assessing CPCS trainers, it never actually happened,” he says.

Testing times

Now the ability of trainers will be entirely down to the training companies themselves; CPCS will focus solely on the test results.

Although these changes are generally welcomed by the plant hire industry, not everyone is pleased. CPA chief executive Colin Wood says: “A lot of trainers didn’t like it. If you were an approved trainer you had the inside track. Now anybody can do it.”

The deregulation, combined with restriction of testing to CPCS-accredited testing centres only, has been bad news for many training companies.

Some plant hirers are not happy. “I know of one well-known crane hirer who has publicly said that he’s not prepared to lose a crane for a day while it travels over 100 miles to the nearest approved test centre for one operator’s test,” says the testcentre manager.

But Mr Bodger points out that there are already more than 100 CPCS test centres and about 650 testers in the UK.

With its route to a competence-based NVQ qualification, the CPCS scheme is accepted by most of the industry as the best route to a qualified workforce, despite some initial hitches. “We’re fully supportive of it,” says Mr Wood.