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What's next for CSCS cards?

With so much recent change to the certification scheme, chief executive Graham Wren summarises the strategy and sets out what the future will hold.

The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) has been on quite a journey since chief executive Graham Wren came on board in 2012.

At that point most cards were issued based on employer endorsement and the completion of a health and safety test. As Mr Wren puts it: “We had strayed away from our original objective of certification of qualifications.”

Indeed, CSCS had strayed to such an extent that there was significant confusion in the industry about exactly what the organisation was there for. Were the cards intended to be a passport to enable workers to access sites? Were they about anything more than health and safety? Something had to change.

Out with the old

In the first instance, Mr Wren and his team jettisoned the Construction Site Operative card – a card that did not require the applicant to achieve a qualification – and replaced it with the Labourer card. Under the new system workers applying for the Labourer card must pass a Level 1 qualification before they are issued with a card and able to get on site.

Reforming the way in which the card system operated received a boost when the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) announced (via its industrial strategy: Construction 2025) that the industry – including trade associations, contractors, clients and government – should specify and promote card schemes carrying the CSCS logo with no equivalents accepted. This is known as the One Industry Logo approach.

The CLC listed requirements necessary for card schemes (including CSCS’s own scheme) to qualify for the CSCS logo, including:

  • Agreeing appropriate qualifications for each occupation
  • Setting a minimum standard for skilled occupations at NVQ Level 2

This was set out back in January 2015, and the card schemes wishing to display the CSCS logo have until 2020 to meet those requirements.

“Following the CLC’s announcement, we carried out a detailed review of the scheme and agreed the Construction Related Occupation (CRO) and the Construction Site Visitor cards did not meet the CLC’s requirements,” Mr Wren recalls. “These cards didn’t require the applicant to achieve a qualification and therefore had to be withdrawn.”

As a result, CSCS stopped issuing the Construction Related Occupation card in 2017 and more recently announced the withdrawal plan for the Construction Site Visitor card, under which it will cease being issued by 2020.

Grandfather rights

By that point CSCS will only be issuing cards based upon the applicant having achieved a recognised qualification. However, there will still be legacy issues to deal with.

When CSCS was launched in 1995, people without qualifications who had been working in the industry for a prolonged period were able to receive cards based on an employer endorsement. This was known as Industry Accreditation or Grandfather Rights. The route was shut down in 2010, but the scheme rules still allow holders of these cards to renew them every five years.

“The CLC expects us to move these cardholders over to a recognised qualification by 2020,” Mr Wren says. “That’s going to be a challenge, because you can imagine the reaction when you ask someone with 10-20 years’ experience to complete a qualification. So we’ve got to consult with the industry about how we move these individuals across to a recognised qualification.”

100 per cent qualified

Another issue that must be tackled relates to contractors who still operate ‘100 per cent carded’ policies, whereby everyone who gains access to a construction site has to be in possession of a CSCS card.

For Mr Wren, this misses the point. “We’re saying it’s about having a 100 per cent qualified workforce and only the workforce that is site-based and doing construction-related occupations need to have a card,” he says.

“That will mean site visitors and people turning up to do non-construction-related jobs – things like catering and cleaning – will not have a card. They shouldn’t be turned away at the site gates. It’s the contractor’s responsibility to ensure these people are properly inducted and supervised. It’s a big industry and it takes time to get that message down to the site gates, but that’s part of our wider communications strategy.”

Elsewhere, CSCS also needs industry support to tackle fraud. Cards can now be read electronically and Mr Wren urges all site managers to do so, as this will alert them to a situation where fraud has been detected and a card cancelled. “The problem is that a lot of sites still operate with a visual inspection of a card, so again this is part of our communication strategy,” he says. “We need greater industry buy-in.”

While there are still some issues to be addressed, the way in which CSCS operates has been radically overhauled in the last seven years. “We’re now in a position where pretty much all of our cards are being issued on the basis of a qualification,” Mr Wren says. “And by 2020, 100 per cent will be.”

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