The Construction Skills Certification Scheme is in the middle of simplifying its system with the aim that only construction workers will need to carry one in future.
It is 23 years since the Construction Skills Certification Scheme was established with the aim of ensuring that everyone who works on a construction site in the UK possesses the appropriate training and qualifications.
Over that time, the organisation has changed substantially. And now, under the leadership of its current chief executive Graham Wren, it is in the midst of another transformation.
His vision, endorsed by the CSCS board, is to renew the connection between certification cards and qualifications, something he says was lost in the early-to-mid-2000s in the wake of a particularly pugnacious speech by the then deputy prime minister John Prescott.
“He delivered a keynote speech at one of the big construction conferences, when it had been a particularly bad year in terms of safety, with quite a few deaths,” Mr Wren recalls. “In typical Prescott style he said, ‘If you don’t sort it out, we’ll sort it out’. What happened was the big contractors came out of that conference saying, ‘Right, we’re going to go 100 per cent carded’.”
At the time CSCS welcomed the move – after all, it would mean more card sales for the scheme – but Mr Wren says that, in hindsight, not enough thought was put into what that growth might mean.
“100 per cent carded did not mean 100 per cent qualified,” he says. “We found that growth in the use of the card was primarily in what we called the Construction Site Operative card and the Construction Related Occupation card. These were cards we issued without the requirement for a construction-related qualification; all you needed to do was pass a touchscreen health and safety test and be endorsed by your employer.”
“At the request of the industry, CSCS introduced a card for vending machine installers. There was a proliferation of cards for random occupations that sat outside construction”
What ‘100 per cent carded’ also meant was that CSCS was increasingly called upon to issue cards to meet the needs of every individual who had reason to visit a construction site – whether or not their role had anything to do with construction.
“The classic one is the person who restocks the vending machine in the canteen,” Mr Wren says. “So, at the request of the industry, CSCS introduced a card for vending machine installers. For a time, there was a proliferation of cards for random occupations that sat outside construction.”
The result was that CSCS cards became increasingly removed from the core objective of certifying construction-related qualifications.
By the time Mr Wren joined in 2012, the CSO card, which required no qualifications to obtain, accounted for half of the cards in circulation, while the CRO card, which again required no qualifications, accounted for another quarter.
“So, you can see that a large proportion of the cards were actually being issued without the requirement for a qualification, purely on the basis of an employer saying, ‘He’s a good lad and he knows what he’s doing’,” Mr Wren says.
“Right the way through the 2000s that was what was happening. So when I joined in 2012, my initial thought was that the scheme had lost sight of its principal objectives. Also, the industry didn’t seem to be placing any real value on obtaining the card, other than it was a hoop that had to be jumped through to get workers onto site.
“There was confusion about what the scheme was and its identity. Its original purpose was to certify that the individual had achieved a construction-related qualification. So, the card displays the qualification and confirms the card-holder’s identity via a photograph. That’s what it was meant to do, but it had become divorced from its original objective.”