What changes are happening to CSCS Cards and how do they effect you?

There have been many changes to the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) in recent years and here we will explain to you what the most up-to-date strategy is and how it affects your working practices.

The CSCS has changed considerably since 2012, when current Chief Executive Graham Wren first came on board. At that point, the majority of cards were issued based on employer endorsement and the completion of a health and safety test. As Mr Wren states: “We had strayed away from our original objective of certification of qualifications.”

Indeed, the CSCS had shifted to such an extent that there was significant confusion across the industry about exactly what the organisation was intended for. Workers questioned whether the cards were meant to be a passport to enable workers to gain access sites or if they were they about anything more than health and safety. This meant that the system was broken and something had to change.

In the first instance, Mr Wren and his team got rid of the Construction Site Operative card, which did not require the applicant to achieve a qualification, and replaced it with the Labourer card. Under the new system, workers applying for the Labourer card must pass a NVQ Level 1 qualification before they are issued with it and are able to get on site.

In support of the changes

The continued reform of the card system received a boost when the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) announced via its strategy ‘Construction 2025’ that the industry, including trade associations, contractors, clients and the Government, should specify and promote card schemes carrying the CSCS logo with no equivalents accepted. This is known as the One Industry Logo approach.

The CLC went on to lists the requirements necessary for card schemes to qualify for the CSCS logo, including:

  • Agreeing appropriate qualifications for each occupation.
  • Setting a minimum standard for skilled occupations at NVQ Level 2.

This was set out in January 2015 and those card schemes wishing to display the CSCS logo have until next year (2020) to meet the stipulated requirements.

Following the CLC’s announcement, CSCS carried out a detailed review of the scheme and agreed the Construction Related Occupation and the Construction Site Visitor cards did not meet requirements as they did not require the applicant to achieve a qualification.

As a result, CSCS stopped issuing the Construction Related Occupation card in 2017 and more recently announced the withdrawal plan for the Construction Site Visitor card, which will cease being issued by 2020. By this point, CSCS will only issue cards based upon the applicant achieving a recognised qualification. However, there will still be legacy issues to deal with.

Out with the old, in with the new

When CSCS was launched in 1995, people without qualifications who had been working in the industry for a prolonged period were able to receive cards based on an employer endorsement. This was known as Industry Accreditation, or Grandfather Rights. This route was shut down in 2010, but the scheme still allows holders of these cards to renew them every five years.

The CLC expects these cardholders to go over to a recognised qualification by 2020. This will prove to be challenging, given that people with 10 to 20 years worth of experience will now be asked to complete a formal qualification. A cross industry consultation will examine how best to move these individuals across to a recognised qualification.

The 100 per cent qualified rule

Another issue that must be tackled relates to contractors who still operate ‘100 per cent carded’ policies, whereby everyone who gains access to a construction site has to be in possession of a CSCS card.

For Mr Wren, this misses the point of the CSCS scheme: “We’re saying it’s about having a 100 per cent qualified workforce and only the workforce that is site-based and doing construction-related occupations need to have a card.

“That will mean site visitors and people turning up to do non-construction-related jobs – things like catering and cleaning – will not have a card. They shouldn’t be turned away at the site gates. It’s the contractor’s responsibility to ensure these people are properly inducted and supervised. It’s a big industry and it takes time to get that message down to the site gates, but that’s part of our wider communications strategy.”

Tackling fraud

Elsewhere, CSCS also needs industry support to tackle fraud. Cards can now be read electronically and Mr Wren urges all site managers to do so, as this will alert them to a situation where fraud has been detected and a card cancelled. The current problem is that a lot of sites still operate with a visual inspection of a card, meaning greater industry buy-in is required.

While there are still some issues to be addressed, the way in which CSCS operates has been radically overhauled in the past seven years. Mr Wren says: “We’re now in a position where pretty much all of our cards are being issued on the basis of a qualification. And by 2020, 100 per cent will be.”

CSCS cards in a nutshell

CSCS cards are the accreditation that  construction candidates need to have to get access to building sites.

People need to pass a theory test which provides the certificate required to apply for the card. Some sites/contractors will accept this certificate for up to six months and others for up to two years. Some contractors see the certificates as a receipt that proves the card is on the way.   

Each colour of card subsequently awarded after the certificate relates to a different level of qualification or experience:

  • Red Card = A trainee card that shows the candidate is waiting to be assessed in their respective trade.
  • Green Card = The General Labouring Card.
  • Blue Card = A skilled worker. This will include the trade/qualification on the back, for example NVQ Level 2.
  • White Card = A construction operative. Some contractors will allow these workers on site and some will not because of health and safety.
  • Gold Card = A skilled worker. This will also have the trade/qualification on the back, for example NVQ Level 3.