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CSCS card overhaul tackles common misconceptions

The organisation sheds light on what the overhaul of its card certification scheme means for former apprentices.

In recent years, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) has taken great strides in returning to its original purpose of certifying construction-related qualifications.

Following a period in the early-to-mid-2000s when CSCS provided a card to almost everyone who walked through the site gates, today it is once again ensuring cards are only issued to those who work in construction roles and have achieved (or are working towards) a construction-related qualification.

However, CSCS is the first to admit that challenges remain in ensuring everyone performing a construction-related role on site is qualified. According to CSCS director of operations Gordon Jenkins (pictured), one of the main issues is a misconception that the only way to obtain a CSCS card is to complete an NVQ.

“It is true that the NVQ is the most well-known qualification and the majority of cards issued are based on the applicant achieving an NVQ,” he says. “But over the years CSCS has worked with the many different sectors and standard-setting bodies to recognise a range of qualifications.

“The biggest one is probably apprenticeships. There is a long history of construction using apprenticeships, both formal indentured apprenticeships and also more informal employer apprenticeships that are linked to a college.”

Historical parity

While today’s apprenticeships lead to an NVQ, this wasn’t always the case.

“Obviously there are historical apprenticeships and many people believe that because they completed their apprenticeship so long ago, it will not be accepted for a card,” Mr Jenkins says.

“People may have been apprentices in the 1970s or 1980s. So what we’ve done over the years is work with each sector to map the old apprenticeship requirements to the current standards to ensure there is parity. The key message here is applicants may find they will be eligible for a card even if they completed their apprenticeship 30 years ago and do not hold an NVQ.”

That doesn’t mean all people who completed apprenticeships decades ago will automatically qualify for a card. “There is a requirement to make sure that there is currency in them – if somebody did an apprenticeship 30 years ago then we need as part of the application process to confirm that they are still working in that sector and that they’re up to date with current practices,” Mr Jenkins adds.

In addition, CSCS has worked closely with various sectors to ensure academic qualifications like degrees and HNDs are also recognised by the scheme. “It’s more at the management and supervisory level, but we recognise a wide range of construction-related academic qualifications,” he says. “Applicants with approved academic qualifications can apply for the ‘academically qualified person’ card.”

“Sometimes people think it means going back to school and taking exams. It doesn’t”

Gordon Jenkins, CSCS

Similarly, CSCS has also worked with more than 60 professional bodies to reflect the skills required to gain chartered membership of such organisations. “Effectively what we’ve done is recognise the entry requirements to get membership of the various professional bodies,” Mr Jenkins says, adding that the ‘professionally qualified person’ card was created for this purpose.

“We work closely with the professional bodies to make sure that, as their membership requirements change and they evolve, we reflect these developments in the card application requirements.”

Pathway for all

There are also those who may have learned their trade on the job without formal training or gaining a qualification.

“The NVQ is a pathway for them, but sometimes people think that it means going back to school and taking exams,” he says. “It doesn’t – it’s very much based on practical assignments and a portfolio of evidence that the applicant builds up. Normally an NVQ assessor will visit site to observe the applicant working and question them about the work they do. Also, if you are very experienced it is possible to complete the NVQ in as little as two days.”

Understandably, companies surviving on small margins can view the cost of training as an obstacle. “But there is support out there,” Mr Jenkins points out.

A significant source of funding is the CITB levy grant system. If an employer is registered with the CITB, they can reclaim grants when somebody completes the training for their occupation. What’s more, while small companies can access grants, they do not have to pay the levy, making training cost-effective no matter the size of a business.

Further details on financial support can be found on the CSCS website, but other options may include grants from local enterprise partnerships, limited funding from Jobcentre, or grants from the B&CE Charitable Trust, which works to get unemployed people back into the industry.

The clear message is that engaging with the CSCS drive to achieve a fully qualified workforce does not necessarily mean getting new qualifications or going back to college. Nor, for that matter, does it need to be expensive.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Cscs is just a scam scheme to allow corporates to avoid hse liability.
    They have passed the cost of their incompetence to assess workers onto the rest of society. And funding for trainning to Small companies, sole trader subcontractors and agency workers is almost non existant. Enjoy the skills crisis!

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  • To add to previous comment about funding for nvqs. I received data from citb, in 2016 one hundred and ninty severn agency umbrella payroll companies paid almost £12 million in citb levies. Citb only returned £166,000 in grants to payroll companies for workers to aquire nvqs. What happened to the money ?

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