It is difficult to slow down progress and avoid change. Those who avoid change and innovation will ultimately see it take place elsewhere, and so future opportunities could either be missed or lost for ever.
The sector’s capacity to respond to the changing access and scaffolding environment is restricted by the availability of well-trained and skilled scaffolders. Increasingly, the sector has focused on ensuring that anyone working on-site can demonstrate that they have achieved a nationally recognised standard of competency.
This is a good thing, but what’s the most appropriate way to both bring new people into the sector and upskill those already working in it?
Earlier this year, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) confirmed the withdrawal of Industry Accreditation cards, also known as Grandfather Rights. These gave workers the opportunity to obtain a CSCS card on employer recommendations rather than with proof of a recognised qualification.
Workers wanting to stay in the sector, from January 2020, will now need to hold an NVQ and those without qualifications will be required to register for the appropriate qualification for their occupation before their cards expire. Once a card expires, it could take two years for an individual without an NVQ to gain or regain the qualification.
My suspicion is that there are potentially a large number of more mature construction workers, supervisors and managers who do not hold an NVQ – probably because, when they started, it was not necessary. Now the goal posts are changing and inadvertently the powers that be may be excluding a number of trade-qualified personnel from being able to work.
The Scaffolding Association has tried to work within the established structures to bring about change in the training of scaffolders – but bringing about meaningful change has been a challenge. This is why plans to increase training and skills delivery capacity for access and scaffolding contractors led to setting up the Access Industry Training Scheme (AITS).
As an employer-led solution, AITS is more receptive to the needs of contractors, with training programmes developed to be flexible and suited to the needs of the type of work a company carries out.
There is no one size fits all. The requirements of a scaffolding contractor working in the nuclear or oil industry are likely to be different to those of a contractor servicing the needs of housebuilders and domestic homeowners.
We need to have a minimum standard of competency that is then flexible enough to allow every individual scaffolder the opportunity to progress as far as they want to progress.
AITS is helping to tackle a shortfall in training capacity and those successfully completing a course become accredited to the Access Industry Competence Scheme (AICS). AICS covers a range of scaffolding- and access-related categories and aims to apply common standards for all sector professionals.
We have been working with the Home Builders Federation to develop a flexible and focused way to ensure that scaffolders working on their member sites have the appropriate skills to work safely and efficiently. These are early days, but there are now hundreds of AICS skills cards in the sector and more employers are seeing the benefits of this route as an alternative to the established and rigid structures in construction.
We want to ensure that everyone employed in an access- and scaffolding-related trade has achieved an appropriate level of competency. Creating the skilled workforce that the country needs to achieve ambitious housebuilding and infrastructure targets requires change and is absolutely fundamental to the future of our sector.