June 24, 2022


Lithium-Ion batteries. A guide to the fire risk that isn’t going away but can be managed

Competency and installers

Mind the gap – how FESS ECS cards are helping the push for improved competency standards across fire and security

The skills gap remains an issue for those installing fire and security systems, but change is underway. So says Andy Reakes, Head of Growth, Joint Industry Board (JIB) & Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) and Trevor Jenks, National Training Manager at SSAIB. The two were on hand in the Expertise & Guidance Theatre at FIREX International 2022 in May to talk about the changes to the Fire, Emergency and Security Systems (FESS) ECS card and what it means for the sector.

Andy started by explaining what ECS is – a digital certification scheme giving visibility of competency in the electrotechnical industry. Much more than ID card, the scheme is all about ensuring people are who they say they are and have been competency vetted. It represents a huge amount of verified information, including qualifications, experience and professional memberships.

ECS-FESSCertificationReminder-20There are now over 170,000 valid ECS cards in circulation across the UK. “We are trying to make the system as easy as possible to use – and it now represents over 50% of the electrotechnical sector,” said Andy.

He added that ECS is leading the way in terms of digital technology to give greater visibility to individual competence in the industry and is part of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS).

Ultimately, for each sector, it’s up to industry to set the standards. “Everyone has to meet the same standards – whether you are an apprentice or have been in the business for 25 years.” There are now several different ECS card types for the FESS sector, which include:

  • FESS Apprentice (those on a level 3 FESS apprenticeship)
  • FESS Trainee (New entrants to the FESS industry on a qualification leading to qualified status)
  • FESS Labourer (For support and assistance of qualified workers)
  • FESS Systems Operative (For experience workers in the FESS industry involved in the installation, maintenance or commissioning of FESS systems)
  • FESS Systems Technician
  • FESS Systems Technician (Gold) (For those qualified to the recognised level 3 standard for fire, emergency and security systems)
  • FESS Technical Manager (For managers that have met both FESS Systems Technician Gold card and ECS Manager requirements)

Andy underlined that Grenfell and the Building Safety Act 2022 have led to the biggest changes to the sector in 25 years – competency is now at the forefront. Everyone involved in any aspect of the design, specification, delivery and maintenance of the built environment – not just construction – will need ECS cards.

The audience was also updated on ECS Check, the free-to-access digital solution, launched in 2020. It is designed to enables the industry to verify all electrotechnical personnel on-site and give essential visibility across the supply chain. 15,000 companies are now signed up for ECS Check, including Mace, Ministry of Defence and Honeywell. “This is another major milestone for ECS Check as it continues to establish the highest levels of on-site competency in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Plus, the CSCS Smart Check app is said to already be improving site safety and card checking procedures on UK construction sites, said Andy. Launched in April and covering 38 different organisations, it means that for the first time, all 2.1 million cards displaying the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) logo can be verified using a single app.


A workforce fit for purpose

Trevor took to the stage to talk about a workforce fit for purpose.

He emphasised that, post Grenfell, government had warned industry that if it didn’t get its act together, the government would legislate for proof of competency. Trevor said that, at the time, existing qualification and card systems were not delivering proof of competence. “Grenfell made us stop, think and revaluate what we were doing.”

An occupational qualification structure was developed by a sector working group in the FESS industry in 2018. This structure was developed to align with the future skills requirements of the sector and the apprenticeship standard in England, and to address the fragmented skills within the current workforce. These changes were also brought in by a desire to professionalise the sector and meet the Construction Leadership Council’s move to ensure all CSCS Partner Schemes, such as ECS, are issued against a recognised qualification standard.


Trevor Jenks presenting at the FIREX Expertise & Guidance Theatre

He pointed out that Working Group 2 (aimed at installers) had just been published and recommended that people get a copy, as well as discussing the origins of FESS Trailblazer England, which found the fire and security sector was mainly unqualified and apprenticeships were not necessarily fit for purpose. With too many qualifications and levels, there was dispute over which qualifications were best, while some were taking qualifications without having actually carried out a job. There was no common competence standard or common competence card-based system in place.

The FESS ECS card now provides a common UK competence standard and solution to these problems, explained Trevor. It defines the technical level within the industry (Level 3), as well as those below and above, and has to be confirmed by a two-day End Point Assessment (EPA).

Ultimately, this will help create an industry career structure based on competence for the fire and security sector.

“We discovered a common ground for the ECS card – this has enormous impact for the UK.” He said that the different level cards had now created an industry career structure based on competence and recommended everyone to visit the ECS website to find out the requirements for their own specific card. The scheme is now in place and has launched, underlined Trevor, which will replace the existing ECS cards.

He pointed out that “You don’t just get a card – you need to maintain it,” and said that the new industry structure has helped create competency level cards cross-matched to all the other national regional schemes.

“This is the card that you need to you prove your competence to get on to any site, not just construction. It will be adopted by the police. And by the fire brigade. It will be a condition of company insurance – which will be going up if no cards are held.”

Trevor closed by pointing out that there will be no better opportunity to upskill the workforce, invest in the apprenticeship programme, close the skills gap and create an industry to meet the challenges that future technology will bring.

See the latest news and find out more about FESS and the new requirements on IFSEC Global’s FESS hub page. 


Subscribe to the IFSEC Insider weekly newsletters

Enjoy the latest fire and security news, updates and expert opinions sent straight to your inbox with IFSEC Insider's essential weekly newsletters. Subscribe today to make sure you're never left behind by the fast-evolving industry landscape.

Sign up now!

man reading a tablet, probably the IFSEC Global newsletter

Related Topics

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments