The roofing sector believes its competency certification system for operatives could be a model for other specialists around construction. Will Mann reports
“Roofing, like much of construction, faces challenges around skills shortages, industry image, attracting new talent, training and work quality. Put it all together, along with a lowest price culture, and that can drive poor behaviour from installers, as we know from Grenfell.”
James Talman, CEO of the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC), is not afraid to speak plainly.
But to his credit, the NFRC decided to do something about these concerns before the Grenfell tragedy. The federation had already begun working on an independently accredited verification scheme for roofer competence, and two years ago RoofCERT was launched in partnership with the CITB.
“Hackitt urged construction to take action before the Building Safety Bill becomes law – and we have actually done something”
Talman believes the scheme could be a model for other specialists to follow.
“Dame Judith Hackitt urged construction to take action before the Building Safety Bill becomes law,” he says. “And the NFRC has actually done something – not many other sectors in construction can say that.”
Among the 11 working groups set up following the Hackitt review to identify and develop competency frameworks and accreditation pathways, the NFRC sits on working group 2 (installers). It is chaired by Build UK and Stanhope’s project executive for offices, Nick Jarman, who praises the NFRC’s contribution.
“The working group obviously welcomes a collaborative approach in improving installer competence, which the NFRC is clearly focused on,” Jarman says.
The NFRC’s representative on working group 2 is head of qualifications Richard Miller. “One Hackitt proposal was for third-party accreditation of competency – which is the principle of RoofCERT,” says Miller.
“The model Hackitt would like to see is company accreditation, where accredited companies would be expected to make sure their staff are competent. That could mean they have been accredited through RoofCERT and the person signing off the work would be a competent, RoofCERT-accredited person.
“RoofCERT also aligns closely with the BSI Flex standard, announced earlier this year as an overarching framework of requirements for competence of individuals working in construction.”
Roofing didn’t have its own competencies defined until this year. The NFRC has been working with the MHCLG to define those competencies – a work still in process, that will finish later this year, Miller says.
The NFRC, like the rest of the industry, is now watching for the detail in the Building Safety Bill. However, the federation is not waiting for the bill to make accreditation mandatory.
The RoofCERT model
There are three key steps to candidates achieving RoofCERT qualification:
Candidates demonstrate their knowledge through a test (online since the pandemic started), which they can do anywhere in the country. It is strictly invigilated, even online. There is an 80% pass rate.
Candidates demonstrate this through an NVQ or through their experience via a one-day assessment, where they demonstrate their skills on site at a test centre in front of an assessor. (CSCS approves this.)
Health and safety
Candidates must also take six mandatory health and safety courses: working at height; manual handling; abrasive wheels; asbestos awareness; fire safety; first aid.
All the information from these three steps is reviewed by an independent auditor before verification. This gives the candidate RoofCERT accreditation for three years after which renewal is required. (Note this is different from NVQs, which have no CPD requirement and make no allowance about, for example, Building Regulations updating.)
“We are currently in discussions with major housebuilders,” reveals Talman. “That is the fundamental focus for our sector: new homes. We are working with the Home Builders Federation’s Home Building Skills Partnership, which has opened the door to major housebuilders, including Persimmon.
“Persimmon has introduced its own internal quality inspectors and they see us as strategic partners.
“We’ve also been endorsed by CSCS.” Miller says there will likely be some extra training packages that will need adding to RoofCERT to meet the requirements of the bill.
“But one other advantage of RoofCERT is that we now have data from the 800 people who have taken the courses, so we can identify where the knowledge gaps are and adjust the training accordingly,” he explains.
One issue to be addressed is funding. “The CITB cut our funds last year during the pandemic, so we self-funded RoofCERT for a while,” says Talman. “The CITB has now started putting money in again, but it is substantially reduced.
“Currently roofer candidates pay nothing to take the accreditation. For training they get funding through the usual routes. The NFRC has funding for 2,000 places, but beyond that we need to get fees to make it sustainable.
“So we will introduce an accreditation fee. We’ve looked at other industries – oil and gas, electric – to see what their practice is and it has to be affordable for a one-man-band roofer. We are targeting the longer tail of roofers with grandfather rights which run out in 2024. RoofCERT can be used to introduce professionalisation to these roofers.”
Candidates do not have to be from NFRC member companies to take RoofCERT, he adds.
Talman is realistic about the challenges of introducing the scheme.
“Currently the industry is overworked, the market is overstimulated, there are not enough supplies, a lot of firms have liquidity issues – we have to be sympathetic about that when we’re pushing RoofCERT,” he observes.
“But delivering on quality and competence would be easier for our sector if it were not for retentions. Housebuilding margins are fat but they still have retentions. There has been no commitment to abolish them. At least Build UK has said its ambition is zero retentions by 2025. Meanwhile, the industry has record levels of work.
“There is £300m of retentions owed to our members currently. That could pay for a lot of training.”
Certifying cladding installer competency
The NFRC has begun work on a certification scheme for rainscreen cladding installers
On the back of its RoofCERT rollout, the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) has also started working on a CITB-funded project to define competency for rainscreen cladding installation.
“A lot of cladding remediation is going on currently, and we need to be sure the people who are doing that are competent to do so,” says NFRC CEO James Talman. “So we’re looking at applying the RoofCERT principles to rainscreen cladding work.
“That would initially involve assessment of operatives, whereby they would come to a test centre and work on a rainscreen cladding section so we can see how competent they are.”
A problem the NFRC has encountered in its research is establishing exactly how many installers of rainscreen cladding there are.
“One issue is that there are many different definitions of cladding,” Talman says. “We had to use a data company to scrape the internet to find who these cladding installation companies are.”