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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
June 15, 2023

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Competency

‘Accessible to anyone’: How fire systems professionals can prove and expand competence

No need ‘to go back to college’ to demonstrate competence, SSAIB’s Trevor Jenks reassured fire professionals at this year’s FIREX in London.

With proof of competence becoming mandatory for fire systems professionals post-Grenfell, a FIREX presentation on the subject was a must-attend for technicians unsure about the implications.

Speaking at the exhibition in London on Tuesday 16 May, Trevor Jenks, National Training Manager at the SSAIB (Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board), walked attendees through a new cross-industry scheme for acquiring, expanding, proving and renewing competence.

FIREX2023-TrevorJenks-ECSCard-23

Trevor Jenks speaking at FIREX 2023

The new FESS (Fire, Emergency and Security Systems) Occupational Qualification Structure, supported by Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) cards, provides a career pathway for new industry entrants and a means for the existing workforce to certify and expand their existing skills.

“Not only do we have a common apprenticeship standard, we have a common engineering standard across the entire fire sector,” said Jenks.

Pathways

Beginning with apprentices or trainees, career progression moves through operatives, technicians and, finally, technical managers. Upskilling from apprentice to operative, to take one example, requires a minimum of two years’ experience and fire systems qualifications from the Fire Industry Association (FIA), Tavcom Training, manufacturers or other accredited providers, Jenks explained.

The end point assessment (EPA) can now be done remotely, if preferred.

Among other things, the next step up, to technician level, requires at least five years’ industry experience and CPD (continuing professional development) training.

Professionals can document evidence of their training, CPD and workplace experience via a MyECS account.

FESS experienced worker assessments from BPEC comprise:

  • ‘professional discussion’ around behaviours, attitudes, professionalism and customer skills
  • knowledge tests on electrical principles and fire systems knowledge
  • workplace evidence of five years’ experience and qualifications
  • and practical tests on safe isolation, installation, maintenance and commissioning.

The precise composition depends on the worker’s specialism.

FIREX2023-ECSStructure-23

The new career competence structure for fire systems professionals

“The whole idea is to make it accessible to anyone in the industry”, said Jenks – from new entrants to experienced professionals “who need a bit of upskilling. They don’t have to go back to college”.

Jenks warned professionals against trying to ‘wing’ the tests. He recalled a trial run of a test that had an 80% failure rate, which then dropped sharply for the subsequent resit.

Renewal

Maintaining competence as practices and technologies change is about more than just renewing the card every few years, explained Jenks. Professionals must periodically prove they understand updates to standards, new technologies and so on.

BAFE schemes, meanwhile, will use third-party certification bodies to confirm compliance and obtain proof of competence during audits. Technical auditors themselves will need to prove their own competence via the scheme.

On-the-spot checks

“Having proof of competence without a doubt will be a condition of work and insurance,” said Jenks.

Whether it’s an auditor, client or insurer, the scheme provides “the ability to walk on site and check cards on the spot” through the ECS portal or CSCS Smart Check App.

However, Jenks added: “I would like to think we would volunteer that information” without even being asked.”

There’s still work to do in adding less core job roles to the scheme, but a “whole career structure” is now in place for the core professions, said Jenks.

Now it was time for attendees to start using the scheme without delay. “It’s going to be a massive part of your business,” Jenks concluded.

 

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