Skills Card Scheme

Over the past few years the construction industry has developed a comprehensive but rather complex system of competence certification by way of various card and passport schemes with the CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) being the most widely recognised. The CSCS system has often been criticised but since the scheme has now been almost universally adopted by the major construction companies it is a system we are stuck with, for better or worse.

The aim of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme is to have an up to date central database of people who have been deemed to be competent in their construction related occupation and who have passed a health and safety assessment within the last 5 years.

The route to obtaining a relevant skill card will be via:

A nationally recognised, competency based qualification such as an NVQ in England and Wales or SVQ in Scotland, or, in a limited number of circumstance, profiling. Applicants will, in most cases, also be required to successfully complete a health and safety awareness test.

In 2010 a chip based card was introduced which provides greater security and enables employers to access the information held on the database for each card holder. The chip also offers the potential of holding all relevant information on training and certification and the means to keep records of new endorsement and recent training updated instantly and economically.

The card scheme has recently been overhauled and new cards added to accommodate some routes which were previously not covered by the original scheme. There are now 350 different trades and occupations covered by the scheme, although there is a considerable overlap between certain categories which only adds to the confusion.

Card Types

The card costs £45 plus the test fee, if applicable, of £17.50. This is a work related expense and is tax deductible if you are self-employed, or your employer does not pay for the test.

There are now eight versions of the CSCS card which are based on a hierarchy of five core card types plus three additional categories to cover all other occupations where people are liable to work on, or visit, construction sites:

  • Red – Trainee (currently unqualified but working towards an appropriate qualification)
  • Green – Basic Operative Level (NVQ Level 1 or equivalent)
  • Blue – Skilled Worker (NVQ Level 2 or equivalent)
  • Gold – Advanced Craft/Supervisor Level (NVQ Level 3 or equivalent)
  • Black – Managerial (S/NVQ Level 4 or 5 or equivalent)
  • Yellow – Frequent site visitor
  • White/Yellow – Professionally Qualified Person (PQP) or Academically Qualified Person (AQP)
  • White/Grey – Construction Related Occupation (CRO)

Although known as a trainee card the red card can equally apply to experienced workers and indicates that the holder has yet to achieve an NVQ/SNVQ or equivalent competence-based qualification, because they fall into one of the following categories:

  • a trainee, who is registered for an appropriate S/NVQ
  • an experienced worker working towards S/NVQ Level 2
  • a skilled craft operative, supervisor ,or manager, working towards S/NVQ Level 3 or above
  • a recent graduate working towards membership of a professional body, who would be expected to move onto a PQP white/yellow card once they have achieved the relevant membership

A green card is available to operatives who carry out basic site skills such as labourers and is the most commonly held card. There are two ways to apply for this card: via NVQ level 1; or by industry accreditation.

The blue, black and gold cards all indicate competent workers, and, with very few exceptions, new cards in these categories can now be obtained only by workers who have obtained an appropriate S/NVQ or equivalent qualification at either Level 2, 3, 4 or 5, or, where a full S/NVQ is not available, have completed appropriate S/NVQ units.

The white/grey CRO card is specifically for occupations where qualification based routes are not currently available.

A white/yellow PQP card does not require possession of an NVQ/SVQ, but does indicate that the holder has competence assessed membership of a construction related professional institution.

Although the current system is simpler and more transparent than the one it replaces, many older cards remain in circulation.

The Health, Safety & Environment (HS&E) Test

Under the CSCS scheme, almost all candidates must take and pass an independent health and safety test. This is a PC based touch-screen health and safety test with a random selection of 50 questions from a total of over 400. The test demonstrates only a basic awareness of risks, hazards and health and safety principles in construction and there is considerable scepticism about the value of this basic test. However, around a fifth of candidates still manage to fail it.

The specialist and managers test is more difficult but, again, all of the questions and answers are readily available and anyone who takes the time to learn these beforehand ought to pass easily.


Although the intention behind the scheme has been welcomed by many in the industry there has been a fair degreee of scepticism about the implementation.

The Donaghy report references a number of criticisms of the CSCS cards, most of which have been echoed by the HSE for their report – A commentary on routes to competence in the construction sector. Common complaints are:

  • the Health and safety test is too easy
  • the level of skills on a CSCS card is often unrelated to the level of work carried out on site
  • the focus is on the card rather than achievement of competence
  • even where a card requires a recognised occupational qualification at a specified level this may not actually mean that the person is competent in the most appropriate sense where health and safety is concerned.

However, the general consensus seems to be that the system is now far too well established to be scrapped or changed significantly in the short term. We can only hope that the scheme continues to evolve and improve to meet the needs of the industry as a whole rather than suiting the interests of a few major construction companies, as is currently the case?

References and Further Reading

Health and Safety Executive – A commentary on routes to competence in the construction sector RR877 – 2011

Donaghy Report, One Death Is Too Many – Inquiry into the Underlying Causes of Construction Fatal Accidents -2009

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