- 1 The CSCS
- 2 The CITB
- 3 Who are the CPCS?
- 4 The CPCS Competent Operator Card
- 5 CPCS blue card renewal cost
- 6 How should I approach my training plan?
- 7 How do I apply for a CPCS Competent Operator Card?
- 8 Summary
The CPCS blue card, also known as the CPCS Competent Operative Card, is used to identify workers who are fully-qualified plant operatives. This job role refers to anyone who operates heavy or light machinery on a construction site. It is part of the over-arching CPCS card programme, which serves to illustrate the experience and capability level of workers operating in the plant industry.
This article intends to specifically review all aspects of the CPCS blue card. Through this, we’ll shed light on the card’s qualifying requirements, application processes, and associated costs.
However, before launching into a specific analysis of the CPCS blue card, it’s worth offering providing some context on the CPCS card programme itself. The CPCS, or Construction Plant Competence Scheme, is part of the wider CSCS card framework. Despite this, the scheme is technically sponsored by the NOCN (National Open College Network). Nevertheless, the CSCS is credited with providing the apparatus for its existence.
The CSCS, or Construction Skills Certification Scheme, is a broadly used initiative by stakeholders within the building and construction sector. As per its subsidiary CPCS programme, CSCS cards are used to highlight the knowledge, competency base, or in some instances occupation, of industry workers. There are numerous trades who have their own version of CSCS cards.
Nevertheless, many use the same card colours to identify the same types of workers, who have equivalent roles or skill sets. For example, regardless of the trade card scheme in question, all CSCS-linked ‘red’ cards denote that the holder is currently engaging in some form of early training programme.
Why are CSCS cards important to construction companies?
CSCS cards, and their associated trade versions, are important to employers for two key reasons. Firstly, they offer a clear, visual indication of a worker’s credentials. For on-site leadership teams, this makes the process of allocating tasks to the right people much easier. Clearly, ensuring that suitably trained employees execute works that they’re specifically trained to deliver is important. This increases project standards, and reduces the risk of harm or injury being caused.
Furthermore, CSCS cards are critical because they highlight the efforts a company is making towards adhering to relevant governmental legislation. Ownership of a CSCS card provides legitimate proof that an individual is equipped to deliver their job role in a compliant way. It also proves that the worker has engaged in an appropriate level of health and safety training.
In order to acquire any CSCS-related card, irrespective of trade or seniority level, you must sit an appropriate CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test. As its title suggests, this is a health and safety-based examination. It assesses whether card applicants have sufficient knowledge of safety practices and procedures relating to the role their targeted card supports.
The CITB, or Construction Industry Training Board, is a widely-respected organisation within trades sectors. Their overall objective is to lead initiatives that serve to improve construction industry standards. This includes providing training courses, distributing learning materials, and establishing challenging and consistent testing criteria. As the parent organisation of the CSCS, the CITB lends its Health, Safety and Environment Test to the CSCS card application process.
Who are the CPCS?
Originally established in 2003, the CPCS is accountable for setting plant industry regulations. These sets of standards instruct plant operatives and management teams on how to deliver works in the right way. In an attempt to keep pace with technological advancements and new industry discoveries, the CPCS regularly updates these regulations. As a consequence, it also takes action to make sure its card scheme remains fit for purpose. It does this by adjusting card qualification requirements to ensure that any significant changes in industry approach. Therefore, the CPCS can feel assured that internal industry workers are operating in compliance with the latest ways of working and schools of thought.
There is a key difference between the CPCS and CSCS card programmes. The CPCS has produced its own set of training courses, which feature in the qualifying criteria of its cards. Therefore, the CPCS actually plays an active, supportive role in plant workers gaining their proof of competence card. This is different to the main CSCS card initiative, which tends to lean on certification and training courses facilitated by external professional bodies.
There are just three CPCS cards currently in circulation. This is far less than the average number of cards affiliated to other CSCS-related card schemes. These cards are the ‘CPCS Trainer Operative’ Card, the aforementioned ‘CPCS Competent Operator Card’, and the CPCS ‘Tester’ Card. Each card is designed for a unique purpose, and is held by differing members of the plant operative community. CPCS cards are most commonly known under the ‘general’ descriptions listed above. However, as cards are often tethered to specific occupations, their title is often re-calibrated to reflect a worker’s job role. For example, a fully-qualified Signaller may own a blue CPCS Signaller Operator Card. Conversely, a standard plant operator would adopt a card using the general title referenced earlier.
A brief overview – Trainer Operative card
As per its title, the trainer operative card is pitched at workers who are looking to engage in formal industry training. Therefore, this card is red in colour. There are actually two ‘trainer operative’ cards in existence, which combine to support workers through their learning journey towards fully-qualified status. Each card has a validity period of eighteen months in length. This splits the training schedule attached to the trainer operative scheme into two distinctive halves.
CPCS red card membership, as is the case for all red cards used in any CSCS card programme, is not renewable beyond the card’s expiry date. This is because the CPCS determines that the three-year timeframe given is long enough to complete all of the required training modules. Indeed, when this has been achieved, a ‘training’ card becomes automatically redundant. If the relevant work hasn’t been achieved within this period, workers will need to find an alternative route. However, don’t panic! Three years provides more than ample time to negotiate all of the mandated courses needed in order to qualify for a professional role. Completing your full training programme will also mean you’re in a position to apply for the higher-graded CPCS blue card.
A brief overview – Tester card
The tester card is the most advanced out of the three CPCS card programmes. If you’re in possession of this card, you’ll be able to formally assess the capabilities of your colleagues. This is achieved through the vehicle of the CPCS Practical Test. The purpose of this test is to judge whether workers have the necessary practical skills to operate proficiently in a plant industry occupation.
Ultimately, testers have the authority to decide whether a worker can operate dangerous machinery in construction site environments. Therefore, there is a high degree of responsibility attached to this role. Indeed, given the nature of the equipment involved, passing a worker who isn’t equipped with the required skills could lead to dire consequences.
Challenging qualifying requirements
Due to the level of accountability held by testers, the role’s accompanying card scheme has a demanding set of qualifying criteria. Amongst other requirements, applicants must have some form of the high-grade certificate within the health and safety discipline, and also have passed both the CPCS Advanced Theory and Practical Tests. Indeed, the criteria is so extensive that the CPCS runs a ‘provisional’ card scheme within the tester cards five-year programme. This enables candidates to continue working through the qualifying requirements whilst technically in possession of a tester card.
At some stage within the two years leading up to their application, tester card applicants will also needed to have successfully passed the CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test. Given that testers assess how workers operate different types of plant machinery, it would also be extremely beneficial for these individuals to have accrued a number of ‘categories’ on their card record. A ‘category’ relates to a specific piece of equipment. Any ‘category’ registered to a CPCS card demonstrates that the holder has been suitably trained to deliver works using the associated machinery.
The card is valid for five years, and membership to this scheme is renewable. However, current card holders must meet another set of challenging criteria in order to renew their card.
The CPCS Competent Operator Card
In a nutshell, ownership of the CPCS Competent Operator Card proves you’re a diligent, fully-trained worker, within your specific plant industry discipline. This card is coloured blue, which is the colour used across all CSCS-related card schemes to denote a ‘skilled’ worker.
In most cases, competent operator card applicants have previously held the red trainer operative card. Throughout the trainee programme, workers will undertake a range of training modules, engineered to facilitate competent operator card ownership on completion. In order to gain the blue CPCS card, you’ll need to pass both CPCS Theory and Practical Tests, within a six-month window. As per the notes above, you’ll be assessed by a CPCS tester in the practical element of these exams. Clearly, these assessments will be based on whatever equipment (‘category’) you’ve been training to use.
Furthermore, you’ll need to have achieved at least a Level 2 NVQ/SVQ (Scotland) qualification in a plant-related discipline. By participating in an NVQ course, you’ll be able to gain valuable hours of workplace experience. This is essential if you are to become comfortable enough to operate your chosen type of machinery in a professional capacity. Furthermore, it will develop your theoretical understanding of the work you deliver. There are several suitable plant-based NVQ’s you could opt to undertake. These include the NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Plant Operations (Construction), and the NVQ/SVQ Level 2 Diploma in Specialised Plant & Machinery Operations. Additionally, you’ll need to have sat the CITB Operatives test, within the two years prior to your blue card application.
A different route
If you’ve passed the same grade NVQ in a different, albeit closely-related field, you’ll also be eligible to apply for the competent operator card. However, you must also complete the CPCS Theory and Practical Tests, in order to advance your application. Clearly, you’ll also need to navigate the CITB ‘operative’ health, safety and environment test.
Any time you look to add or renew a ‘category’, you must start the application from scratch. Therefore, you must sit the CPCS Theory and Practical Tests alluding to that specific discipline. You cannot transfer the CPCS-based qualifications you’ve gained whilst using one piece of machinery, onto the cause of applying for a ‘category’ addition linked to different equipment.
The CPCS logbook
When you receive your blue CPCS card, you’ll also be allocated with an official CPCS logbook. This book should be used to record each important moment within your learning & development journey.
Even after becoming fully qualified, it’s highly recommended to pursue further training. This may materialise in your quest to earn additional ‘categories’, or perhaps through targeting a specific role or occupation. Either way, the logbook provides a great way of capturing what you’ve achieved, and equally of exposing gaps in your training history.
The logbook is also useful when approaching the renewal process for your CPCS card. Indeed, providing you maintain a reasonable log of events, you should be able to glean potential useful information for the CPCS Practical Test, which you may opt to re-take when renewing your competent operator card (see below). You’ll also be able to self-reflect on achievements and challenges faced throughout your career, and swiftly identify card expiry dates.
Renewing your CPCS blue card
The card has a five-year validation period. Clearly, as this card basically confirms your professional status, you’ll likely be keen to renew your card on expiry. The CPCS has a dedicated ‘renewal’ exam that you’ll need to pass in order to retain your membership in the scheme.
This process applies to each ‘category’ present on your competent operator card. Furthermore, as two years will have expired long before the end of your card’s valid duration, you’ll need to once again pass the CITB Operatives test.
Please note that although two years is determined as a reasonable timeframe to ‘top-up’ your CITB test, the validity of your certificate is extended to comply with the length of your card’s ‘live’ duration. This rule only applies whenever a CITB test is taken in conjunction with a CSCS-related card application. Therefore, your CITB test certificate is valid from card application to expiry.
In addition to completing these assessments, you also must have either:
- Completed an on-site assessment
- Re-completed the CPCS Practical Test
- Logged at least 300 hours of work, relating to each ‘category’ record you’re looking to renew. This must be presented to an assessor for verification. This clearly illustrates another reason to use your logbook effectively!
CPCS blue card renewal cost
The cost of the card itself is already accounted for in the CPCS Theory and Practical Test fees. The price of these tests is entirely dependent on which learning provider you use, and the discipline you’re being assessed on. The difference in costs between assessment facilitators is considerable. Some are able to offer both CPCS tests for around the £300 mark, whilst others charge more than £500 to harness the same two examinations. Therefore, prior to registering for these tests, it’s worth shopping around some different providers. You’ll also need to pick up the cost of your CITB Operatives Health, Safety and Environment Test. The price for this assessment is £22.50 when booked directly through the Construction Industry Training Board.
You’ll also need to cover the cost of your ‘renewal’ test. If you book this through the National Open College Network (NOCN), you’ll be charged £28 to sit this exam. This price will be applied to each ‘category’ you’re hoping to renew. However, as per the original application process, your new card fee is absorbed into the price of your accompanying assessment (on this occasion the renewal test).
If you’ve undertaken NVQs previously, you’ll know that they’re a relatively expensive undertaking. A level 2 NVQ costs around £550-£700, dependent on the trade and learning provider. Therefore, given the scale of the costs involved, we would recommend checking to see whether you’re in a suitable financial position, prior to commencing any formal training.
If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to fully cover this cost, it could be worth seeing whether you are eligible to receive government financial support. There are a number of grants and bursaries available for adult learners. Some companies will receive government funding to invest into employee training schemes. Therefore, you should firstly liaise with your employer to see if they can help fund your studies. Industry certification bodies, such as the City & Guilds, also have access to grants. There’s also the option of applying for funding directly to the government yourself, which you would do via a means-tested grant application. For more information about financial aid schemes, please head to the direct.gov website.
How should I approach my training plan?
The best thing about training in today’s age, is the level of flexibility you have with the structure and format of your learning journey. Gone are the days where students exclusively learned in straight-forward classroom environments, focused on a set timetable of training modules. Now, candidates have access to a range of remote learning facilities, and can generally fit their training commitments around their own lifestyle.
Therefore, before signing up for your NVQ, take time to reflect on how you want to specifically approach your training plan. You may feel like you need the buzz of classroom sessions, and the camaraderie those conditions generate between yourself, tutors and peer groups. Alternatively, it could be the peace and quiet of your domestic surroundings that you opt for, and engage in a remote training course. Equally, perhaps cramming modules into an intense, condensed period is favoured. This would allow you race through your learning, and quickly gain employment. Conversely, you may want to study at a slower pace, spreading out modules over a series of weeks and months.
There really is no right or wrong answer to how you train – you just need to find a learning provider who can accommodate your personal requirements. However, try not to stress too much about this decision. Irrespective of the training path you take, your NVQ Level 2 certificate will still hold the same value!
How do I apply for a CPCS Competent Operator Card?
Once you’ve passed your CPCS Practical Test, you’ll be able to get on with applying for your blue CPCS card. You must perform this test at an approved test centre. If you wish to make an instant application for your card after your test, advisors will be on-hand to support you in this endeavour. However, if you would prefer to do this alone, you have the option of applying independently. Regardless of how you apply, you’ll need to complete a F1/1 application form. This will be available at your test centre.
The CPCS will typically take no longer than two weeks to arrive. However, if you need to prove your credentials to an employer straightaway, you can request to receive a ‘letter of achievement’. This document confirms that you’ve passed all of the necessary training courses to hold a blue CPCS card. The letter is valid for the 28 days succeeding your test date. Therefore, this will provide more than coverage to accommodate expected card turnaround times.
To check the progress of a card application, simply call the CPCS on 0844 815 7274, and liaise with a CPCS advisor.
The competent operative card proves that you’re suitable trained to operate as a fully-qualified worker in the plant industry. As discussed, there a number of different versions of this card, linked to various roles within the sector. However, the key consistency between these cards, and indeed all other blue CSCS-related cards, is that they identify that the holder is ‘skilled’ in their profession.
Hopefully, you’ll know have a better understanding of the qualifying criteria attached to a blue CPCS card. Given these requirements, you’ll need to undertake a substantial number of training modules. Therefore, please ensure you have the focus and commitment needed to see through this fairly intensive training plan.
However, please remember that you’re completely in control of your learning journey. Whether conducted at a fast or slow pace, conducted online or in the classroom, it’s important that your training schedule complements your personal circumstances. Please also consider the financial elements of your training, making sure that you seek out any support you may potentially need before starting out on your training pathway.
Regardless of whether you’re planning to apply for a CPCS card in the near future or not, we would recommend familiarising yourself with the application process now. This will serve to facilitate a more efficient application process when you decide to pursue registration to a card scheme.
If you require any further information on the blue CPCS card, it’s worth visiting the official NOCN website (link provided at the top of this article). Alternatively, you may want to liaise with a course tutor, or trusted industry professional.
If you’re on the cusp of applying for your competent operator card, we hope that you successfully acquire membership to this scheme, and that CPCS blue card ownership provides a positive next step towards realising your plant industry career ambitions!