SKILLcard swoops to clear up registration fraud

Tuesday, August 16, 2022 11:59 AM

The operators of one of the construction industry’s largest skills certification registers have moved swiftly to close a loophole that had left the scheme open to abuse.

Managers of the Engineering Services SKILLcard were alerted to the fact that a number of people working in the thermal insulation industry had managed to secure Heating and Ventilating (H&V) Installer cards in order to gain access to construction sites.

As a result, some managers were in danger of being duped into allowing workers without the right qualifications onto their projects. However, SKILLcard and the Thermal Insulation Contractors Association (TICA) quickly closed the loophole before it could cause any lasting damage.

SKILLcard and TICA both run Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) partner programmes that underpin the government’s 2025 industry strategy by helping clients check whether workers have the right qualifications for the job in hand and have suitable health & safety training. For thermal insulators, this means holding qualifications that lead to competency as defined by the Sector Skills Council (SSC).

More than 60,000 people working in the heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration industry hold an Engineering Services SKILLcard, which also covers building engineering services supervisors and managers. It was the first CSCS card scheme to go ‘smart’ easing the process of updating the holder’s qualifications and making it simpler and quicker for site managers to check skills and prevent potential fraud.

The TICA Skill Card competence is different to the SKILLcard scheme, but thermal insulation operatives found that it was possible to secure an engineering services card on completing an NVQ Level 2 course as a standalone qualification. There were also reports that social media was being used to encourage others to follow suit.

“Of course we are flattered that operatives from outside our industry see the value of Engineering Services SKILLcards, but this is a blatant abuse of the competence system,” said Rachel Davidson, director of certification schemes at the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), which manages SKILLcard.

“As soon as we were alerted, we closed this loophole in line with our responsibility to uphold professional standards and provide quality assurance to construction clients.”

She said it was clear this loophole was being exploited knowingly because the applicants felt they would not immediately qualify for a TICA Skill Card.

“This does not mean the H&V Installer card requires lower standards.  Rather, it is applied to an entirely different occupational skillset that is not appropriate for thermal insulators,” said Ms Davidson. “The route to qualification is different and allows the candidate to apply directly on receiving their NVQ whereas the TICA card requires an additional technical certificate or competency assessment of those technical skills.”

SKILLcard is rejecting these applications and is directing applicants to the TICA scheme.  It is also auditing its database to ensure no other H&V Installer SKILLcards have been issued on this basis. Any that are uncovered will be withdrawn, it stated.

“While this has been an unsettling episode, it has served to demonstrate how CSCS partner organisations work together to uphold professional standards for the benefit of clients and every other skilled trades person who has taken the trouble to apply for their competence card in the right way,” added Ms Davidson.

She also committed the organisation to auditing its entire database to ensure no other cards had been issued via similar loopholes – and encouraged other CSCS card operators to do the same.

“We have been aware for some time that some insulators were applying outside of the TICA Skill Card to gain access to construction sites,” said TICA chief executive Marion Marsland. “We have made a commitment, as part of the wider Construction Leadership Council mandate, to ensure all operatives within our industry are qualified and competent to a transparent and consistent set of standards.

“We will continue to work to that end, and believe that open communication with other partner schemes, including the Engineering Services SKILLcard, is of huge benefit to the whole sector.”

CSCS chief executive Graham Wren explained that, in order to meet the industry’s aim of a fully qualified workforce, it was vital for cardholders to hold the right card for the specific job they do onsite

“This helps site managers by ensuring that workers only undertake work they are qualified to do. It is great to see our partner card schemes TICA and BESA working towards this goal,” he said.

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