The competence challenge for building services professionals

2 September 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

If competence in construction is to improve, then the government and industry need to bite the bullet on long-standing issues with lowest-price tendering, oppressive commercial terms and insufficient training incentives, argues Andrew Eldred.

In its recently published interim report, Raising the Bar, the Building Safety Competence Steering Group (CSG) has recommended that all safety-critical disciplines working on higher risk residential buildings (HRRBs) adhere to more rigorous standards of individual competence.

The report contains much that is potentially positive. In particular, ECA strongly supports CSG Working Group 2’s endorsement of regulated, competence-based qualifications as the basic foundation for individual installer competence. We also welcome the Working Group’s call to extend the scope of CSCS and its partner card schemes into the domestic market.

A need for leadership

Whilst the electrotechnical sector is comparatively well placed to respond, we do not under-estimate the scale of the task ahead. We believe that both the proposed Building Regulator and Building Safety Competence Committee – and any interim bodies – will need to demonstrate formidable powers of leadership and resolve to help overcome the numerous obstacles still in the way which otherwise threaten to hobble meaningful improvements to individual competence.

Andrew Eldred

More effective industry engagement will prove crucial. This should include adequate recognition of the centrality of installer competence – which, in our view, is still treated too much like a “Cinderella” in the CSG’s report.

Government also needs to get better at discriminating between genuine industry representative organisations and others with primarily commercial motives.

Time to bite the bullet

Underlying structural factors, which the CSG concluded lay outside its remit, also need to be addressed as matters of urgency. The Government should finally “bite the bullet” on long-standing issues with lowest-price tendering; oppressive payment and commercial terms; insufficient incentives for sustainable employment and training practices; continued over-reliance on subcontracting; a lack of relevant competence among those charged with procuring and administering contracts; and, widespread false self-employment.

Models of good practice

Good-practice installer sectors such as electrotechnical have a lot to offer the wider industry in this area, but only if those in authority choose to acknowledge this and harness it. We can boast a strong tradition of apprenticeship training and a highly effective card scheme in ECS.

Nearly a third of the 65,000 qualified electricians holding an ECS gold card are already committed to ongoing CPD through voluntary “Registered Electrician” status. ECS is on track to roll-out an online CPD platform to help support this further next year.

Collaboration in recent years between ECA, FSA and other industry partners has led to the successful development of a level 3 fire, emergency systems and security (FESS) apprenticeship standard. An agreed plan is also in place to recognise existing workers’ previous qualifications and experience through ECS from 2020.

These initiatives offer a potential model which other new or emerging disciplines, with currently weak or non-existent qualifications and card arrangements, might usefully adopt.

Andrew Eldred is director of employment & skills at the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA).


How many organisations does it take

Sheila, 4 September 2019

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