Recently, announcements were made with regard to changes that affect the minimum requirements for all new Qualified Supervisors. Now that the dust has settled, it’s a good time to take a closer look at what this means for our industry.
For those who don’t know, the following definition is taken from the IET’s document, Electrotechnical Assessment Specification for Use by Certification and Registration Bodies:
Qualified Supervisor – a competent person with specific responsibility on a day to day basis for the safety, technical standard and quality of electrical installation work.
Simply put, a competent person is someone who has the necessary technical knowledge, skill and experience to carry out their responsibilities to the satisfaction of certification and registration bodies — such as BECSA, BSI, ELECSA, NAPIT and the NICEIC, for example.
Perhaps the most commonly recognised are ELECSA (the ECA), NAPIT and the NICEIC, and many contractors will have joined at least one of these.
It is normally a requirement for the type of work that we do, or of the clients that we want to work for. Of course, it is also something to (hopefully) take pride in, as it should set us apart from our non-approved competitors.
However, it’s been my experience that there are not many electricians who join these bodies because of a desire to do so — or because of a belief in what they say and stand for. Instead, it would seem there is a certain need (i.e. market pressure).
When Part P was introduced to the Building Regulations in 2005, most electrical work in domestic dwellings became notifiable to the local Building Control. The most efficient and economic path for compliance in many cases has been to become a Registered or Approved Installer (i.e. a competent person).
This can only be achieved by becoming a member of the above associations — something that they have not been slow to market, as can be witnessed by the increase of their Roll of Approved Contractors.
One requirement they all hold in common is the appointment of a Qualified Supervisor, who will carry out the tasks outlined above, and also ensure that the results of the verification process (inspection, testing and commissioning) are accurately and appropriately recorded.
So what are the requirements for someone who wishes to be a Qualified Supervisor? From the IET document I quote:
11.10 A Qualified Supervisor shall be required to have adequate knowledge, experience and understanding of the design, construction, maintenance, verification and/or inspection and testing procedures for electrical installation work in accordance with the relevant competence requirements in Appendices 4 and 5.
Appendix 5 details the routes for registration.(see the IET document)
Appendix 4 details the technical competence requirements as ;
For other than Part P Competent Person Schemes, (in other words those involved in non-dwelling work, i.e. industrial, commercial etc):
Qualified Supervisors shall be required to meet the competences of “The National Occupational Standard for electrotechnical services – installation (buildings and structures)”.
For Part P Competent Person Schemes, (those involved in ‘notifiable’ dwelling work):
Qualified Supervisors and Responsible Persons shall be required to meet the competencies of “The National Occupational Standard for ensuring the compliance of electrical installation work in dwellings in accordance with the Building Regulations (England and Wales)”
And, here is the exciting bit, as from 1st January 2012, a level of technical competence equivalent to Level 3 NVQ will be the minimum required for all new applications for Qualified Supervisors.
This has caused more than a few ripples already throughout the electrical industry, not least in the training sector! But surely this is good news, isn’t it? Finally, someone is drawing a line in the sand and stating that there has to be a minimum standard. Not only do the Qualified Supervisors have to fulfil the requirements of the National Occupational Standards, but they also have to hold an NVQ Level 3, or equivalent. Isn’t this is just what a lot of us have been pushing for, to try to get the electrical industry properly regulated so that only competent, skilled, experienced persons can undertake and supervise electrical installation? Well let us ‘unpick’ things a little bit, and see if this is quite what is happening.
First we have to look at how the industry has been split up by these requirements.
Introduced first in 1986 by the specially formed National Council for Vocational Qualifications, NVQ’s have become a very significant part of the UK training and development landscape. However, for the vast majority of us that are over 40 years of age, they were not part of our training or apprenticeship.
Also, many others have attended colleges to take the City & Guilds 2360, 2351 or 2330 courses part time, looking for a career change opportunity, without actually working in the industry. Although the technical certificate and qualification will have been attained, the NVQ will not have been achievable, as it has to be assessed on site. Additionally, for those paying their own fees, the added cost of the NVQ fees has deterred many who could have ‘physically achieved’ it from even attempting it!
Finally, I know of cases where individuals have given up with the NVQ, seeing it as ‘not worth the aggravation’, once they had achieved the technical certificate (C & G). On some occasions the decision has been prompted by desperation with the paperwork and rules and systems involved.
For these reasons, many of the electricians working in the industry today do not have the level 3 NVQ, and this will, as from January 2012, exclude them from being able to become Qualified Supervisors. Does this mean they are not competent electricians? No of course it does not, but they are on the wrong side of the line!
Well, let’s see. For any firm that is ‘approved’ to NAPIT, the NICEIC or the ECA they usually require at least one person to be the ‘Qualified Supervisor’, regardless of how many electrical operatives the firm has. This means that a firm with a hundred electrical operatives (electricians, apprentices, electrical labourers, technicians etc) requires one Q.S., the same as a firm with four operatives, or even a sole trader.
This, of course, makes the requirements (and costs) far more onerous for small firms, in proportion to the benefits.
Those who already have, or have had, the title ‘Qualified Supervisor’ will be able to continue to hold that position, whether they hold the relevant qualifications or not, but new applicants must have the Level 3 NVQ. (or equivalent, but so far no information has been forthcoming as to what the equivalent is?).
Amongst those who already hold this title, are those who have slipped in through the back door, on some of the ‘domestic installer’ schemes, and ‘defined works’ schemes. When referring to the National Occupational Standards it is blatantly obvious that many of these have not got the required levels of understanding and knowledge of electrical principles, especially when it comes to design work. Still, the stable door is closing, slowly. Let us hope that when it finally closes it doesn’t have a cat-flap in it the size of an elephant!
Well, in my opinion, there are a fair number of good electricians who are going to find themselves on the wrong side of it, so we must find a way of helping them across, if they want or need to be a Q.S. There has to be a way for them to achieve the required NVQ (or equivalent), on their terms, and I hope to help find a solution to this in the coming months. Of course, there will be many electricians who work for a firm that already has a Q.S., and they may be perfectly happy to keep it that way, and that’s fine!
Secondly, there are a number of not so good ‘electricians’ on the ‘approved’ side of the line, who have filled in the required forms and paid the fees, which are sometimes the main criteria required! I only hope that experience and maybe, one day, licensing, will lead to an improvement in skills and knowledge.
So the line is a bit on the fuzzy side really, but at least it has been drawn.
The biggest problem that I see is that these new rules will once again put those who are trying desperately to do the job properly at a disadvantage. Additional costs of training and equipment and the investment of time and energy in maintaining systems, especially for small firms and sole traders. There has still been absolutely NOTHING done about the numerous shady characters that carry out electrical work, never bothering about Certification, Notification, Building Regs, Wiring Regs, VAT, income tax (sorry I swore there!), or the EAWR 1989!
While this ‘underground economy’ exists, often producing substandard work on the cheap for cash (most fools can get lights or sockets to work, even when they are not safe!), it makes a mockery of any changes made to rules and legislation for bona-fide electricians. These shady characters are not only jeopardising the safety of customers, they are taking the bread out of the mouths of competent electricians, depressing reasonable prices and generally lowering standards by putting pressure on others to ‘cut corners’ in an effort to remain competitive.
Unfortunately, you can draw as many lines in the sand as you want — these guys will just step over or around them. Sure, it is important to set standards for Q.Ss as long as they are adhered to, but I feel it is far more important, at this time, to set standards for all electrical operatives and License them.