- 1 The CSCS
- 2 The CITB Test
- 3 Who are the CPCS?
- 4 Types of CPCS Cards
- 5 CPCS Trained Operator Card (Red)
- 6 CPCS Competent Operator Card (Blue)
- 7 CPCS Tester Card
- 8 What costs do I need to consider, and what structure and format will my training plan take?
- 9 How do I apply for a CPCS Card?
- 10 Summary
The Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS card) is used by those working in the plant industry. These cards are used to identify the skill-set, experience, and competency level of plant sector workers. Each card is equipped with a set of qualifying requirements, which applicants must address in order to successfully apply for their chosen card scheme. This includes undertaking specific training modules, gaining on-site experience, and navigating various assessments.
However, before launching into a specific review of the CPCS, it’s worth quickly understanding the initial origin of CPCS cards.
Ultimately, this card programme is an extension of the CSCS framework. The CSCS, or Construction Skills Certification Scheme, serves to categorise workers across all trades associated with the construction sector. As per CPCS cards, this involves distinguishing workers by their developed capabilities. Again, in similarity to the CPCS, many trades adapt the CSCS card programme to suit the conditions of their own specific industry. Indeed, in disciplines such as plumbing, electrical work, and scaffolding, cards are re-titled to reflect particular occupations. For example, in the scaffolding trade, the standard CSCS blue ‘skilled worker’ card is called the CISRS Scaffolder ‘Tube & Fitting’ Card.
Despite this, many of the colours applied to these cards, used to support the effective identification of a specific worker, are consistent amongst these various trade schemes. To use the previous example, all CSCS-linked initiatives, regardless of trade, use a blue card to illustrate that someone is fully-qualified in their chosen field.
The CITB Test
In order to apply for any CSCS-related card programme, you must complete an appropriate CITB Health, Safety, and Environment test. This stipulation stands regardless of whether you’re making an original card application, or a renewal. Furthermore, in either scenario, you must have passed this test within the two years preceding the date of your application.
The CITB, or Construction Industry Training Board, is a highly reputable and well-respected organisation. They’re empowered to support workers across the building and construction sector, and relentlessly bid to improve industry standards. The CITB look to drive these improvements by using a range of different methodologies. This includes running a number of training courses to provide new skills development opportunities for construction workers. Another support initiative comes via the distribution of learning materials and resources. However, importantly in this context, the CITB also produces industry-wide testing criteria. This is endorsed by trade associations, private firms, and trade representative boards alike. The CITB Health, Safety, and Environment test is an example of this, and forms a key part of the compliance certification needed to successfully attain a CSCS card.
Who are the CPCS?
The CPCS has been in operation since 2003, and serves to support the plant industry in a variety of ways. It helps to create regulatory guidance throughout the sector, enabling workers to understand how to deliver tasks safely and compliantly. Through this, it sets a minimum operational standard for all plant workers to adhere to, and standardises behaviour throughout the industry. For the sake of clarity, a plant worker can be described as anyone who handles machinery and equipment as part of their role on a construction site.
The CPCS regularly reviews whether its cards’ qualifying requirements are reflective of the current conditions of the industry. This includes judging whether the qualifications that candidates must pass in order to acquire CPCS cards are still fit for purpose. It also checks to see whether its own internal training courses, which equally support candidates to apply for cards, is maintaining pace with technological advancements, adjustments to best practice, and preferred ways of industry working.
Specific skills and occupations
Although each CPCS card has a generic title, holders will specialise in certain pieces of equipment. Indeed, owning a particular CPCS card may indicate that you’re a fully-qualified plant operative, but it does not authorise you to conduct works on every available piece of machinery. Your card will entitle you to operate equipment that you’ve been specifically trained to use. Each time you are suitably trained on another plant device, this skillset will be added as another ‘category’ to your card membership. If you embark upon a long career in the industry, it’s likely that you’ll add a number of these ‘categories’ onto your CPCS card.
Given its focus on all plant operations, the CPCS represents workers occupying a number of on-site positions. These include plant operatives, slinger/signallers, plant equipment labourers, and lifting operations planners/controllers. The full, comprehensive list of workers that the CPCS card applies to is available here.
Types of CPCS Cards
Compared to various other trade card schemes, there are very few CPCS cards available. There are three in total, which basically function as beginner, intermediate, and advanced cards. We’ll now provide a brief overview of each scheme, highlighting its qualification criteria, the type of workers it targets, and its specific validation and renewal terms.
CPCS Trained Operator Card (Red)
As per all CSCS-endorsed schemes, the CPCS’ used a ‘red’ card programme to denote that the holder is currently in training. This card is designed for those looking to progress towards fully-qualified plant operative status, who have already had some experience working in the plant industry. This programme is designed to prepare the candidate for application for the CPCS blue card, which, as previously mentioned, highlights that a worker is fully qualified in their field.
After observing qualified colleagues, and increasing your level of knowledge around the general operation of plant equipment and machinery, you’ll then be in a position to tackle the CPCS Theory Test.
This will challenge you on aspects relating to the ‘category’ of equipment you’ve opted to specialise in. In order to pass this test, you must have a good appreciation of how to operate this machinery compliantly, and what safety considerations you must take into account.
Within six months of passing the theory test, you’ll then need to successfully navigate the CPCS Practical Test. Here, you will be assessed on how you physically use the category of equipment selected. To do this, the assessor, or ‘CPCS tester’ (more on this role to follow), will analyse your skills whilst performing several typical tasks executed by plant workers.
Both of these assessments must be undertaken at accredited CPCS test centres. Therefore, these cannot be conducted either virtually, or at your current place of work. Each test must be passed in order to meet the trainee card’s qualifying criteria.
Furthermore, you’ll need to hold a valid CITB Operatives test certificate, achieved within the two years prior to your card application. Once you’ve earned membership to the trained operative scheme, you’ll then be able to navigate your formal training towards becoming a fully-fledged plant operative.
The trained operative card, like all CSCS-related training cards, is non-renewable at the end of its validation period. This is because the CPCS deems that the card’s two-year expiry length provides sufficient time to complete the relevant training modules required to reach fully-qualified status. Iit would be pointless renewing a training-based card if engaging in training activity was no longer needed! If you do not manage to complete the qualifications in time, you’ll need to find an alternative route into the industry, outside the red card scheme.
However, don’t panic! The CPCS red card’s two-year timeframe should offer ample space to conclude your studies, and gain the certification needed to move on to the next stage of your career.
CPCS Competent Operator Card (Blue)
Once you’ve completed your stint as a red card holder, and hopefully gained the certification required, you’ll be able to apply for the Competent Operator Card. As mentioned earlier, this secures your position as a ‘skilled’ worker, and demonstrates that you’ve been suitably trained to perform the role of plant operative.
During your trained operative scheme, you’ll need to have taken a plant-related level 2 NVQ/SVQ (Scotland). This course will serve to add valuable hours of construction site experience, cultivate your practical skills further, and give you a better theoretical knowledge of plant industry disciplines. Furthermore, it will also provide you with a better grasp of health and safety considerations, and increase your confidence in dealing with accidents in the workplace. Specific Level 2 NVQ/SVQs you may look to take include:
- The NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Plant Operations (Construction)
- The NVQ/SVQ Level 2 Diploma in Specialised Plant & Machinery Operations
When applying for your competent operator card, you’ll need to provide evidence that you’ve passed a relevant level 2 NVQ course. If you previously held a trained operative card, the rest of the card’s qualifying requirements will have already been completed as part of your previous training plan. As an addition to these technical requirements, you’ll also need to have sat the appropriate CITB test. As per the trained operator card, this will be the Operatives version of this assessment. Please note that an administration charge of £25 is applied when the CPCS upgrades your trained operator card, to a competent operator card.
There is a separate pathway that facilitates applications from individuals who did not participate on the trained operator scheme. If you have achieved a level 2 NVQ in a closely-related field, such as a qualification associated with a construction-related trade, you’ll still be able to apply for a competent operator card. However, you’ll need to sit each assessment taken by those who are current or previous red card holders. Therefore, you’ll need to pass the CITB ‘operative’ test, the CPCS Theory Test, the CPCS Practical Test, and also prove that you hold a valid certificate for your completed NVQ.
The CPCS logbook
On receipt of your competent operator card, you’ll also receive a dedicated CPCS logbook. This is p a useful tool for capturing a variety of workplace information. You may want to record new skills you’ve mastered, training plans you’ve completed, or even employment spells.
There is no compulsory requirement to log any activities or achievements. However, keeping a record of events may serve to make card renewal processes more efficient. This is because you’ll be able to determine, in one place, when different certificates are due to expire, and your current level of competency when preparing to approach future CPCS Theory and Practical Tests (more on this to follow). Furthermore, it will also serve to re-focus your mind on certain elements of your personal learning journey you haven’t revisited for a while.
Once you’ve acquired your card, you’ll be able to think about whether you would like to build up your knowledge and understanding of alternative ‘categories’ of equipment. If you wish to formally add a different ‘category’ to your blue card scheme, you’ll need to demonstrate your proficiency in using the associated equipment.
To do this, you’ll need to start your training for this category from scratch, and meander through the exact same processes you did when developing your skills relating to the machinery you’re currently authorised to use. This will mean passing the CPCS Theory and Practical Tests based on the specific ‘category’ you’re aiming to add onto your card permissions.
This card is valid for a term of five years, and is renewable at the point of expiry. In order to successfully re-apply for the competent operator card, you’ll need to demonstrate that you still possess the skills and knowledge acquired when initially applying for your card. Furthermore, you’ll also need to prove that you’ve absorbed any new ways of industry working, and are up to date with the latest trade regulations. As part of this process, you’ll need to pass a ‘CPCS Renewal Test’ for all categories represented on your competent operator card. Indeed, the CPCS runs a separate ‘Renewal Test’ per ‘category’. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure that you take an appropriate assessment for each ‘category’ listed on your blue card scheme. Furthermore, you’ll also need to undertake one of the following actions:
- Complete an on-site assessment.
- Complete the CPCS Practical Test (as performed whilst in possession of a trained operator card).
- Present your logbook to an assessor, which needs to contain at least 300 hours of recorded work alluding to tasks completed per each ‘category’ you’re testing for.
Lastly, you’ll be asked to required to re-take the CITB Operatives test.
Please note that there is no independent card renewal fee, as this is absorbed into the CPCS Renewal Test charge.
CPCS Tester Card
This is the most advanced plant worker scheme available. Ownership of this card will give you authorisation to test peer groups when undertaking their CPCS Practical Test. In order to apply for this scheme, you’ll need to have an in-depth knowledge of plant operations. It will also help to be fully-skilled in a range of different plant ‘categories’
Unsurprisingly, the qualifying requirements for a CPCS Tester are extensive.
Qualifying criteria – Health and Safety
In addition to passing the Managers and Professionals CITB test at some stage within the two years before your application date, you must have completed a separate, advanced health and safety assessment. This could be any one of the following modules:
- NEBOSH Construction Certificate (taken within the five years prior to your application date. If five years have elapsed since gaining this certificate, this qualification will still be valid providing you hold IOSH membership, at least at Tech IOSH level).
- Site Managers Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS)
- Managing and Co-ordinating Plant (MCP). However, your certificate must have been kept valid by attending periodic refresher courses when required.
- IOSH Managing Safely (taken within the five years prior to your application date)
- A health and safety-based level 5 or 6 qualification. This must be presented with a valid CSCS card that relates to one of the following specific industry positions: Construction Health and Safety Manager, or Construction Health and Safety Senior Manager. Again, you’ll need to accompany this qualification IOSH membership to at least a ‘Tech’ grading.
You’ll need to also be in possession of a valid First Aid certificate.
Qualifying criteria- Technical aspects
There is also a raft of technical requirements that you’ll need to navigate in order to successfully apply for this card. These include:
- Passing the CPCS Advanced ‘Theory’ Test (this must be taken at some stage within the two years after gaining your CITB Managers and Professionals test certificate).
- Passing the CPCS Advanced ‘Practical’ Test (this must have been sat within six months of passing your theory test, and again within the two years of acquiring your CITB Managers and Professionals test certificate).
- Passing the CPCS Tester Course
- Finally, you’ll also need to attend an advanced-level NVQ relating to the plant industry.
However, it is not compulsory to have navigated each and every aspect of the scheme’s qualifying criteria prior to applying for this card. Indeed, it’s often the case that ‘tester’ card holders are still completing their respective NVQ at the beginning of their card’s validity period. However, regardless of which qualification is still outstanding, you’ll be able to join the scheme via its ‘provisional’ card initiative. This acts as a stop-gap measure until you can address the remaining parts of the card’s qualifying requirements. This card lasts for two years, by which point the CPCS expects you to have progressed into a position which allows you to legitimately apply for the ‘full’ card.
Tester card renewal
The card’s renewal process is equally as demanding. Tester cards are valid for five years (including if the holder has completed a two-year provisional card stint). On re-application, you must:
- Still be in receipt of a valid First Aid certificate
- Pass the Managing and Co-ordinating Plant course
- Pass the CPCS Tester CPD course.
- You’ll also need to re-pass the CITB ‘manager’s and professional’s test’. Again, this must occur within the two years leading up to your application. Please note that if a CITB test is taken (and passed) in conjunction with any CSCS card application, it becomes instantly valid for the duration of the card programme being applied for.
Please note that there is a £25 administration fee to renew your CPCS Tester card.
What costs do I need to consider, and what structure and format will my training plan take?
Training in the construction industry can be expensive. The complexity of practical tasks, the theoretical detail involved, and health and safety considerations, mean that trade courses can take a lot of time to complete. This inevitably serves to add significant costs to the process.
When approaching your learning journey, you should take time to review a number of different elements. These include:
- how much you’re prepared to pay for your training (and therefore what you can ultimately afford)
- how much time you have to invest in training
- what kind of learning environment suits you best
Most learning providers will now accommodate your personal circumstances during training periods. Therefore, you can afford to be fastidious when co-ordinating your training schedule.
You may prefer to engage in remote learning, eager to take advantage of being able to dip into course sessions whilst at home or on the move. Alternatively, you may crave the energy of a classroom-based debate, keen to interact proactively with peers and tutors alike.
It could also be the case that you have personal commitments, and are currently unable to commit to a block of training appointments within a short space of time. In this scenario, most course facilitators will allow you to spread your learning, picking up sessions over a series of weeks or months.
Regardless of your approach, the merits of the end result will be the same. Indeed, no matter how you gain your certification and earn your CPCS card, the achievement will hold the same weight.
Course costs between different learning providers vary wildly. Therefore, we would encourage you to shop around prior to selecting a private establishment to conduct your training through.
If you’re a little concerned about the size of the fees you may need to shell out, it could be worth checking to see whether you’re eligible for financial support. The government runs a number of grants and bursaries which are specifically designed to encourage workers to develop their skillset.
Some of these programmes give funds to employers, who then invest this money into employee learning & development efforts. Therefore, we would encourage you to touch base with your employer to see if they can support you in any way. Others administer funds through industry certification bodies, such as the City & Guilds.
There’s also an opportunity to see if you qualify for means-tested support. If you were eligible to receive funds in this scenario, payments would be issued directly into your bank account. To review available financial aid schemes, please visit the direct.gov website.
Please note that the CITB Health, Safety, and Environment Test, regardless of the version you take, costs £22.50 when booked directly through the Construction Industry Training Board.
How do I apply for a CPCS Card?
Once you’ve collated all of your evidence, you’ll be able to appropriately complete application form F1/1. Here, you’ll confirm you’ve delivered all of the qualification requirements associated with applying for your chosen CPCS card scheme.
If you’re in a position to apply for your next card after completing your CPCS ‘Practical’ or ‘Advanced Practical’ Test, you’ll be able to request that your documentation is sent directly to the CPCS from the test centre. However, you can opt to do this independently should you wish.
As the CPCS will take a little time to process your application, you can request a ‘letter of achievement’ to be issued by your local test centre. Therefore, should you require a CPCS card to access site, you’ll be able to use this confirmation note as a stop-gap measure for entry.
Furthermore, if applying for a job or keen to demonstrate your credentials to a prospective employer, this letter will also act as sound proof that you’re soon to be in possession of a CPCS card. This temporary certificate is valid for 28 days, but you should hopefully have received your CPCS card within a fortnight.
If you’re concerned about the progress of a CPCS card delivery, please contact the organisation directly. To do this, please call 0844 815 7274, and explain the issue to a CPCS advisor.
As we’ve seen, the CPCS card plays a fundamental role in the plant operative industry. By identifying whether workers are ‘in training’, competent, or at an advanced level, site leaders can accurately allocate tasks based on skill-set, knowledge, and experience.
Before applying for a CPCS card, it’s important to understand which card is most suitable for you. To do this, please review each card’s qualifying criteria, and work out which complements the qualifications and capabilities you’ve achieved to date.
Unlike other CSCS-related card schemes, there are a minimal number of CPCS cards available. Therefore, selecting the right card should be relatively straightforward. If you need some support in this endeavour, please visit the CPCS page of the NOCN website.
Remember, whether applying or renewing a CPCS card, you must take the appropriate CITB test, listed on the card’s qualifying requirements. This must have been taken within the two years prior to your application date.
We would encourage you to consider your full CPCS training plan, and understand how you want to progress through each card scheme. It’s entirely up to you whether you opt to learn through virtual platforms, or conversely in a classroom environment.
Furthermore, you can choose to either complete your training in an intensive, condensed block, or stretch it out over a period of time.
Regardless of the options you take, please ensure that you feel in control of your own learning journey. Don’t forget, if you’re worried about the scale of training costs, you may be able to access financial support through a variety of different vehicles.
Please ensure you familiarise yourself with the CPCS card application process. Even if you’re currently in possession of a card which will be valid for some time, refreshing yourself on the renewal process will make for a more efficient re-application procedure when the suitable moment arrives. The renewal requirements for CPCS cards are typically more extensive than other CSCS-endorsed card programmes. Therefore, please don’t get caught out by this, and plan to take any refresher courses and training modules early!
If you require any further information about the CPCS card programme, please visit the official NOCN website. Alternatively, you may want to liaise with a course tutor, or trusted industry professional.
If you’re currently applying for CPCS card, we wish you the best of luck in your application, and hope that acquiring your card proves to be a positive stepping stone towards progressing your career in the plant industry!