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Building-controls engineers get qualified
Published:  16 July, 2006
BCIA

JOHN MARROW discusses the steady progress that is being made towards a nationally recognised qualification for controls engineers.

The arrival of any new industry is rarely, if ever, heralded with a well prepared programme of training. This was the case with the building controls industry as it began its UK emergence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Training was product specific, and it was not until 2002 that a wide-based generic training programme was developed. By this time the old established methods of apprenticeship training had virtually disappeared and companies were looking to Modern Apprenticeships to fill the void.

Most Modern Apprenticeship programmes are carried out with a training provider, ensuring a partnership in which the apprentice is trained and mentored by both the employer and the training body — ensuring that the apprentice follows a structured training route over a three to four years, culminating in a nationally recognised qualification.

Training providers are typically linked to Government through Learning & Skills Councils (LSCs) and can be colleges, employers or any organisation which has been accredited by an awarding body, such as City & Guilds, Edexcel or EMTA. The LSCs are regionally based and ensure that government funding is allocated to training providers, with the benefits being passed on to both employers and trainees.

Most routes follow a framework that reflects the skills and qualifications required for the Modern Apprenticeship Certificate to be achieved. For example, on-the-job training, key skills, and college-based qualifications would be different for an electrical apprenticeship compared to that for a mechanical. This certificate easily manages these differences, as it is a single document that references all other qualifications attained as part of the overall training.

Frameworks are approved by the awarding bodies referred to above and delivered by training providers. They normally have three components: qualifications attained on the job; qualifications attained at a college of further education; and qualifications in key skills such as IT, working with others and numeracy. The challenge for the building-controls sector is always to ensure that the framework selected is appropriate for the skills and expertise required.

Skills councils are licensed by the Department for Education & Skills to co-ordinate education and skills in various sectors of the UK economy. The skills council for the building-services-engineering sector is SummitSkills. There are a variety of routes that can be followed, and information on those that best fit our industry can be provided by training providers, national training organisations and LSCs. For further information, go to www.summitskills.org.uk.

Building Controls Industry Association

Aware of the shortage of building controls training, the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA) created its own technical-training scheme some four years ago. Much effort was put into providing a generic programme of training, as opposed to a product-based scheme. Developed with a view to training its own industry engineers, the courses are now attracting personnel from contractors and end-users. To date, some 324 individual delegates from 51 companies (the BCIA itself has 37 member companies) have attended the course programme, with 876 course certificates being awarded.

As high as the standard may be, this qualification is not a recognised national qualification, but BCIA is now aiming for NVQ accreditation. Working with SummitSkills, it has been agreed that the Building Controls Engineer NVQ would ideally form part of the existing Building Services Engineer, Technology & Project Management (BSETPM) scheme. BSETPM would provide a generic platform for an electrical, mechanical and controls NVQ, thereby spreading the word of careers in building controls to careers teachers and educational establishments generally.

The next challenge is for the BCIA to produce its own industry assessors. Assessors for the building-controls industry are currently non-existent, so the BCIA skills-development working group is focused on encouraging experienced building-controls engineers to pursue assessor competency alongside their career in building controls or when they retire.

John Marrow is a member of the skills-development working group of the Building Controls Industry Association and training manager for TAC Satchwell.