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Quality assurance at heart of new £2 billion green homes grants scheme, says UK Government. It needs to be.

There’s nothing more infuriating and, in some cases, more dangerous, than someone who’s got the ticket but can’t do the work. By ticket we mean the permit, the competence card, the licence, the certificate (or whatever you call the removable, time-limited accreditation) a person needs for carrying out a restricted activity such as operating a crane, driving a large truck, isolating a power supply, supervising construction works, installing a heat pump, insulating a house, or checking for COVID 19 compliance.

If someone holds a ticket and can’t complete the work safely and to an acceptable standard, something must be wrong with the training and/or assessment process they went through to get it. There are several potential problems:

  • Assessment results may be valid and reliable but the competence requirements don’t reflect real needs.
  • The quality of training and assessment delivery could be at fault – some might be good, some might be bad.
  • The assessments may be suitable but the scoring could be too generous – because of the pressure to maximise pass rates.
  • Attitudes towards the training and its outcomes may be poor – if it’s seen as a hoop to jump through, it will be treated as one.
  • A combination of the above.

None of these problems are new to health and safety regulators – they have cropped up in prosecutions brought against companies and directors for years.

  • For ticket issuers (the awarding organisations), invalid certification calls their credibility into question.
  • For employers, the key concern must be that ticket holders know the risks associated with an activity, and how to minimise them, but can’t do this in practice.
  • For customers and colleagues, and anyone else impacted by their work, the risks run from poor service to re-work, from injury to worse.

The ticket is a powerful thing. If there aren’t enough ticket holders, work gets delayed or can’t get done. This puts throughput pressures on training organisations and ticket issuers.

The ticket becomes a source of vulnerability because it tempts:

  • Company directors into thinking that risks (to their business and their customers) arising from poor work performance and behaviours are known and under control.
  • Government agencies, company procurers and labour suppliers into commoditising the contracted workforce.
  • Training organisations into becoming teaching factories where trainers treating every learner as if they were the same.

Not that the ticket is not all bad. Over recent decades it has brought structure, transparency and significant risk reductions to many sectors where unregulated use of labour causes loss and harm. The trouble is that the ticket is too often mistaken for the real thing, that is, the actual ability to carry out activities to the expected standard. And the training and assessment process leading to the issue of ticket gets mistaken for the competence management system every company should be operating.

Think of the ticket as necessary but not sufficient. It needs to be seen as integral (not a bolt on) to the way you train and develop people, deploy them, manage their work and prepare them for future responsibilities.  Ask yourself this: Can everyone who holds the ticket they need, do what it says they can? If the answer is No or Not Sure, there is a lot you can do about it but you need to start doing it now.