Installers need to get in driving seat of new competence regime

Andrew Eldred is director of workforce and public affairs at trade body ECA

This month saw the publication of a new report on installer competence. It was prepared on behalf of Working Group 2 (WG2), which is charged with establishing a new, post-Grenfell competence regime for installers, which Dame Judith Hackitt called for as part of her 2018 review, Building a Safer Future.

The WG2 report focuses on six ‘pilot’ installer disciplines and analyses their current competence arrangements – in particular, where each one falls short of the new, higher expectations.

These six disciplines are:

  • Domestic plumbing and heating;
  • Drylining;
  • Fire detection and alarms;
  • Fire stopping;
  • Rainscreen cladding; and
  • Roofing.

Over the past year, representatives from each of these sectors have been working with volunteers from WG2 to get the report ready.

Action points

There are some wide differences in the quality, coverage and effectiveness of current competence arrangements within the pilot disciplines. All six have long lists of actions, however, which they will need to implement during the next phase, when each one gets down to developing a sector-specific framework in line with BSI Flex 8670 and WG2’s own competence recommendations.

“For individuals, the biggest change is likely to be an end to the ‘qualify once, work forever’ philosophy singled out for criticism in Dame Judith’s 2018 report”

For individuals, the biggest change is likely to be an end to the ‘qualify once, work forever’ philosophy singled out for criticism in Dame Judith’s 2018 report.

Starting with the pilots, every installer discipline will need to come up with new, standardised requirements for continuing professional development (CPD) and new procedures for revalidating individuals’ competence every few years.

For organisations, WG2 has recommended the extension of accredited, independent, third-party certification arrangements for all installer sectors. Until now, these have been confined mostly to particular sectors or types of work, such as the Competent Person Schemes in the domestic market.

These certification processes should include regular and robust checks to ensure organisations are complying with requirements to employ people who are properly qualified for the work they do, and to ensure workforce competence is maintained consistently through appropriate CPD and revalidation.

Identify obstacles

As well as making sure the contents of these new sector-specific frameworks are right, WG2 will continue to work closely with each pilot discipline to identify any significant obstacles to implementation.

There is, for example, already widespread agreement among the pilot disciplines that the UK’s technical education system is inadequately structured and resourced. It will need attention if it is to deliver the enhancements to training and assessment that the new installer competence regime is going to need.

Many sectors are likely to struggle with significant marketplace barriers to the uptake of the new regime. Such obstacles include price-centred commercial practices, a preponderance of micro-firms and sole traders, and inflated levels of self-employment. Clients, consultants, main contractors and the government all have important contributions of their own to make in creating a more supportive environment for installer competence.

This is vital work, and it is critical that installers themselves are in the driving seat when it comes to designing and implementing the competence framework for their sector.

As well as the pilots, there is no reason why other installer disciplines – or, indeed, all – should not start the process of analysing any gaps between where their discipline currently is on competence and where it needs to be. This is the first step, and only the first step, towards establishing the clear, robust and consistent installer competence regime that Dame Judith called for way back in 2018.

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