Holding all of the cards28 January 2021

irtec licences are available at multiple levels for heavy vehicle technicians

Skills passports offer direction for strategically minded technicians and evidence of aptitude for employers. No wonder then, of their growing popularity. By Steed Webzell

When it comes to skills cards and qualification portability, a number of sector-specific schemes exist that enable workers to carry evidence of their competence from one job to another. The schemes are not new, but they are evolving and growing as more employers and workers come to realise their benefits.

Perhaps the longest-established and most notable is the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), which made its entry around 20 years ago. CSCS cards provide proof that individuals working on construction sites have the appropriate training and qualifications for the job they undertake. By ensuring that workers are suitably qualified, the card plays its part in improving standards and safety. Although CSCS passports are not a legislative requirement, the vast majority of contractors and house builders require construction workers on their sites to hold a valid card.

“CSCS was the first skills passport that the construction sector really got behind,” says Joseph Gibbons, communications coordinator at CSCS, a not-for-profit organisation. “Safety on UK construction sites was the driver behind its creation, ensuring personnel have the appropriate training and qualifications, thereby reducing the risk of accidents while simultaneously improving standards.”

To obtain a CSCS card, applicants must pass an appropriate CITB health, safety and environment test (cost £21) and hold a suitable qualification in the relevant trade, such as bricklaying, plastering or carpentry, for example, which as a minimum should be NVQ Level II or equivalent. A fee of £36 is payable to cover administration costs.

“Putting qualifications at the centre of the card has probably been the biggest evolution of CSCS in recent years, as we look to maximise the utility of the system for the industry,” says Gibbons. “We previously had some card types in circulation that did not require a professional qualification. These have now been withdrawn, as has our site visitor card.”

To help prevent counterfeiting, CSCS cards feature an embedded smart chip.

“A free app that we supply, called Go Smart, reads and checks physical and virtual CSCS cards, as well as compatible card schemes. The app will display a photo of the cardholder, along with their qualifications and the expiry date. If desired, the site can use this data for additional business functions, such as evacuation lists and time sheets.”

Around 1.1 million workers hold a CSCS card in the UK, with a further 800,000 holding cards run by partner schemes. These partner cards carry the CSCS logo but are run independently, while committing to the same standards from the Construction Leadership Council. There are more than 30 CSCS partner cards in circulation, typically covering specialist areas of the construction sector, from demolition, scaffolding and welding, through to asbestos removal, HVAC and glazing.


Among the partner passports is the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) gold card, which is for electricians who work unsupervised on the installation, commissioning and maintenance of low-voltage electrical and electronic devices and appliances. The gold card shows that the cardholder has completed an industry-regulated, competency-based qualification which includes technical theory with practical and competency assessments. To apply for the card, applicants must have a JIB-recognised UK qualification (NVQ Level III or a formal UK electrotechnical apprenticeship) plus a formal BS7671 qualification in the current edition of the wiring regulations.

Away from the construction sector, many similar cards are in circulation across several industry areas, including nuclear, which offers the NS4P skills passport. This online system securely records an individual’s competence in addition to their training and qualifications.

NS4P centres on an competence framework based on skills, knowledge and behaviours. The system includes a tool for assessing, verifying and recording competence, thus providing the sector with a common language and approach to skills. Intended for both companies and individual supply chain contractors, the NS4P passport creates transferrable competence records, promoting workforce mobility into and across the nuclear sector. If required, NS4P can integrate with proprietary systems. Customisation allows users to select the competencies and functionality relevant to the needs of individuals or the organisation.

Another skills card example is irtec, an independent accreditation that validates the competence of maintenance technicians in the commercial vehicle, trailer and passenger carrying industries. An irtec licence is valid for five years and tests both the knowledge and practical level of an individual. Developed by IRTE, a sister professional sector to iPlantE and BES in the Society of Operations Engineers (SOE), the scheme raises standards and encourages industry self-regulation in road transport maintenance. It is possible to gain an irtec licence at five different career levels that reflect job role and experience. Once accredited, technicians agree to abide by the irtec code of conduct, receive a licence card and a certificate, and gain an entry in the irtec technicians’ directory.

As a point of note, the SOE runs its own CPD (continuing professional development) scheme, which it says is a key driver for members. The CPD forms part of the SOE Code of Conduct, and is separately mandated by the Engineering Council and Society for the Environment. SOE supports all members to maintain their CPD through its content library, calendar of events and online recording systems.


A further skills passport partnering with CSCS is SHEA (Utility Water Safety Health and Environmental Awareness Passport Course), also known as the SHEA Water Passport. To obtain the card, applicants must pass a course comprising eight modules on the topic of health, safety and environment in the water and wastewater industry: understanding workplace responsibilities; understanding the effects of work on the environment; identifying and controlling risks; common hazards in the workplace; sewerage network and process operations; highway working and excavation; occupational health hazards; and responding to emergencies.

SHEA Water Passports are valid for three years. Energy and Utility Skills, the sector skills body for the UK water industry, is the awarding and examination board.

The hydraulics and pneumatics sectors are also keen on training passports, with the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA) launching its own card in 2017. Well over 1,000 have since been issued.

Commenting on the scheme, Martin Kingsbury, BFPA membership and training director, says: “The training passport scheme is a natural progression for us at the BFPA as it supports our aim of constantly raising standards and promoting safe working practices in the fluid power industry. A large number of our member companies have already made a commitment to support the scheme, which continues to grow and achieve wider recognition in the UK.”


Although the HSE does not normally approve or endorse individual schemes, it does recognise that skills passports for health and safety can be a useful way for employers to check whether someone working on their premises, or doing work on their behalf elsewhere, has received basic health and safety awareness training. However, employers need to be clear about whether the training that the passport represents is compatible with the work the holder undertakes, taking into account his or her working environment.

HSE reminds employers that a passport is not a substitute for a risk assessment; providing job- or site-specific information; or for effective on-site management or supervision. However, the HSE does encourage organisations to recognise different passport schemes, if they are confident that they represent a level of health and safety awareness needed for the work. Adopting this approach can help reduce the burden on businesses and people who operate in more than one work environment, it observes.

Steed Webzell

Related Companies
British Fluid Power Association

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