The end of IA cards: what you need to know

Workers who gained skills cards through employer recommendation have until the end of the year to become formally qualified

At the start of 2023, some 60,000 people held Industry Accreditation (IA) cards or ‘grandfather rights’ – Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards that are obtained through employer recommendation.

Since then, around 25,000 have given up their cards, with the CSCS confident that most have moved over to other forms of accreditation.

The remaining 35,000 need to switch to a qualification-based card by 31 December 2024 as their IA cards will become invalid at the start of 2025.

Critics argue that removing accreditation from so many workers is a high-risk move when the industry needs to recruit an estimated 225,000 extra workers by 2027.

“The CITB is making unprecedented levels of funding available that cover all or most of the costs of achieving a qualification”

Alan O’Neile, CSCS

The change is part of the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC’s) drive – called One Industry Logo and set out in 2015 – to ensure all workers can display that they are competent.

CSCS head of communications Alan O’Neile said: “The One Industry Logo action sets an expectation that all 2.1 million cards displaying the CSCS logo will be achieved via a qualification by the end of 2024.

“Great progress has been made since 2015 – since when, more than 600,000 previously unqualified construction workers have obtained a recognised qualification – but there is more work to do.

“The removal of IA is the final piece of the jigsaw that will achieve a fully qualified workforce.”

He added: “All the way through the Building Safety Act, one of the themes is: people need to be appropriately qualified for the job that they do onsite and employers have a responsibility to make sure that they are qualified.”

A task group including Build UK, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the CSCS, Kier, the National Open College Network and the Scottish Qualifications Authority has been meeting about the transition since summer 2022, following a Covid-related delay.

Generation gap

Most workers with grandfather rights are older than the industry average. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the number of people in their 50s and 60s taking early retirement shot up, helping to worsen the skills shortage.

O’Neile said that workers with IA cards remain important. “[The task group’s] whole mantra from the minute they got together was: we value these individuals, their skills and experience are incredibly valuable, and we do not want them to leave the industry.”

In January 2023 when the switchover was confirmed, guidance and directions to support were released by the CSCS.

“The package of support was all about showing these individuals that they’re valued,” O’Neile said. “Yes, some do have to achieve a qualification, but we’re going to make it as straightforward for them as possible. They won’t need to go to college and the CITB is making unprecedented levels of funding available that cover all or most of the costs of achieving a qualification.”

“The abrupt removal of IA-backed cards at the end of next year was not something the NFB ever supported”

Richard Beresford, National Federation of Builders

The CSCS guidance highlighted that many people might transfer easily to another card if they have a qualification such as an indentured apprenticeship, degree, City & Guilds craft qualification, NVQ or HND.

Membership of an approved professional body – such as the Institution of Civil Engineers or CIOB – will also qualify someone for a CSCS card. And some who have moved to leadership roles will no longer need accreditation.

Otherwise, the main route for those in the trades is to undergo an SVQ or NVQ assessment on site while working. For those in supervisory roles, an assessor will carry out a verbal discussion, which can be completed online.

CITB grants of up to £1,500 are available to companies registered with the training body for individuals that complete an NVQ or SVQ.

Mixed response

But some self-employed workers are instead looking to leave construction. Kevin Murphy, a door engineer based in Portsmouth, told Construction News that the changeover feels like a “cash grab” that will see the industry lose experience.

“I have no plans to renew and have heard the same from others around my age,” he said. “I will be 62 when my current card expires and, as a sole trader, I will be expected to pay north of £1,000 to be assessed by someone whom I imagine would be somewhat embarrassed himself.”

A CITB spokesperson said companies are able to claim for training provided to subcontractors and sole traders that they use.

While many industry bodies worked on the changes, the National Federation of Builders (NFB) has opposed the process.

“The abrupt removal of IA-backed cards at the end of next year was not something the NFB ever supported,” said chief executive Richard Beresford. “Removing grandfather rights is a necessary step forward but it should have been done in a gradual manner, to stop perverse incentives such as switching to using the wrong card or not using one at all and undermining the CSCS card system.

“With a year to go, and still many thousands of IA-backed cards still in use, employers and employees need to take action now because if an NVQ is needed, it won’t be achieved overnight.”

The NFB Major Contractors Group has published its own guide on ensuring competence and health-and-safety achievement on its website.

O’Neile insisted that most of the industry is supportive. “I think that before the package of support was announced there was a lot more nervousness about the withdrawal of IA, but now that people are starting to understand that the money’s there, they don’t have to go to college [and] they can do it through an assessment, feedback is more positive,” he said.

O’Neile added: “I think with any change you will always have a number that refuse to accept it, but we’re getting largely positive noises from the industry because, in the context of Grenfell and the Building Safety Act, it’s absolutely the right way to be moving the industry.”