As a sector dogged by stories of cowboys, suffering from outdated stereotypes and poor perception from those outside of the industry, RoofCERT could be the change that the roofing sector really needs. But what does it mean for you, the contractor, and how will such a wide-ranging and far-reaching accreditation scheme be implemented? We caught up with Mike Wharton, Head of Business Development at the NFRC, to discuss this and so much more about RoofCERT…
Total Contractor: How is the RoofCERT accreditation progressing and what stage are you at?
Mike Wharton: This is a highly collaborative programme, so the focus so far has been on getting the broadest range of stakeholders involved. We’ve now got a Leadership Committee made up of representatives from across the industry, including roofing contractors, suppliers, merchants, main contractors, our partners the CITB, the LABC and other agencies. This committee oversees the work being carried out by the three Activity Groups which include experts that we’ve similarly recruited from both inside and outside of the roofing industry.
The Supply Chain Collaboration Group is ensuring that there is a pipeline of appropriate training available and assessing the best way to deliver it, either through assessment centres or on the ground. The Attraction Group is exploring suitable career paths for roofing and looking at ways to make RoofCERT attractive to industry, households and buyers of roofing services.
The Accreditation and Standards Activity Group is essentially creating the accreditation itself and has made some great strides in setting out what it will look like. The group is focusing on a points-based system that captures an operative’s existing qualifications, acknowledges experience gained on site and includes a mandatory ‘basket’ of short duration courses, which everyone will need complete. The group is currently deciding how much weight each of these three elements carries towards accreditation.
TC: The NFRC has launched the scheme alongside the CITB, do I have to be a member of the NFRC to become accredited?
MW: No. It’s open to anyone in industry and the aim is to have 5,000 roofers accredited by 2021.
TC: What is actually involved in becoming accredited?
MW: The starting point will be a ‘gated’ knowledge test specific to each discipline, which everyone will take at the 100-plus secure test centres dotted around the UK. Passing this test will allow them to enter the system and provide evidence (or undertake as appropriate) the short duration courses on first aid, manual handling, working at height, fire safety and asbestos awareness, abrasive wheels and possibly another course on communication. We are also about to scope the registration and booking system.
TC: What, if any costs are involved?
MW: For the first 5,000 contractors there is no cost at all. After that there will be a cost, which is to be decided.
TC: Is the accreditation relevant to both new entrants and established roofers?
MW: Only those that have been working in roofing for a minimum of three years will be eligible for RoofCERT. So, if you’re an apprentice, you will need to have reached the three-year point and achieved NVQ Level 2 before registering.
TC: How do you feel being an accredited roofer will benefit a contractor’s business?
MW: There has never been an accreditation scheme for roofing and so this is a starting point for professionalising the industry. We know that in general accreditation is important to consumers as a mark of trust, so if they insist on RoofCERT accreditation, then it’s clearly a benefit to those operatives and their firms. Similarly, in the commercial market, a roofing-specific accreditation we see as being insisted upon by main contractors, councils and other stakeholders, particularly in light of the tragic event of the Grenfell fire.
TC: Will it be each individual within the company who is accredited or the company as a whole?
MW: We already have the Competent Roofer scheme, the only government-authorised competency scheme for roofing which applies to companies. RoofCERT, on the other hand, is geared towards individual operatives so that they can take it with them if they were to change companies.
TC: How will the accreditation scheme be policed and who by?
MW: The start point is the initial secure ‘gateway’ test, when the individual must present ID before submitting into the system relevant qualifications, which will be checked. There will be a refresher – be it knowledge-based or practical – taken every three years to maintain accreditation, which will include knowledge of British Standards. Training centres will also be accredited to deliver the scheme and could include commercial training providers, training groups and other interested parties. These will be audited on a schedule to be decided.
TC: What impact do you think an accreditation scheme will have with regard to attracting school-leavers to the sector?
MW: The Attraction Group will assess how the industry can attract a new generation and is looking at how other sectors approach the issue, because frankly construction hasn’t been successful. Clearly, we need to be better at making roofing an aspirational career choice so accreditation, which will help to establish a formal career path, may help with this.
TC: How do you balance educating and raising standards of new entrants into the market and those who are more established – is there a different job to be done with both?
MW: There is a slightly different job to be done because it is much easier to explain the importance and changing nature of standards to a new entrant than an experienced operative who may have completed their NVQ Level 2 30 years ago. The challenge is reaching those experienced workers and more importantly getting them to adopt the standards. The three-yearly refresher will help solve this issue.
TC: How much is it about educating the public and building owners about what they should expect from roofing contractors, as it is about changing working practices of some of those within the market – clearly there is a large number of professional and skilled contractors already operating throughout the UK…
MW: Educating the consumer about the benefits of employing a skilled and safe roofing contractor over someone who will offer the lowest price, without any evidence of competence, is key to success. We’re therefore undertaking a nation-wide research project on consumer attitudes to understand how best to tackle the issue.
TC: How do you get the message to roofers who may do “private work” in their spare time – cash in hand, perhaps not insured etc. which as we know goes on in most sectors of construction – will we ever be able to change that mentality or is it again about educating the homeowner / customer and ensuring they see the benefits in choosing a skilled and accredited roofer?
MW: Once RoofCERT is established and people see the value of it, the roofing operative will either have to go through it or choose not to be in the industry, because ultimately the aim of RoofCERT is to eventually write it into Statute. There will always be a black market in every area of construction, unless VAT is dropped for home improvement (for example).
TC: Do you feel the roofing industry is slowly changing the outdated perceptions the public and in some cases clients / building owners might have of it? Or are we still some way off?
MW: The professional end of the industry is very serious about what they do and is passionate about correct installation methods and is passionate about removing the cowboy element. However, I think we’re some way off from changing perceptions and it’s another reason why RoofCERT is needed to both professionalise the whole of our industry and demonstrate that to our stakeholders.
TC: Where would you expect to see the accreditation scheme by the end of this year. Do you have a timeline in place for where it needs to be?
MW: We expect the design for the accreditation of key disciplines and the secure testing element will be agreed by the end of this year. The full launch of RoofCERT to operatives will be in 2019.
TC: How has this type of initiative worked in other sectors – glazing, heating and plumbing for example – what sort of changes and benefits has it brought about in those markets?
MW: The most well-known example is still the Corgi / Gas Safe scheme for plumbing, which had a hugely positive impact on that industry. If you ask the average person in the street today who they need to install a boiler, they’ll say a Corgi or Gas Safe-registered plumber. For glazing FENSA and CERTASS are well known among consumers who understand that they will need a building regulation certificate when they come to sell their homes. We aim for RoofCERT to be similar in terms of profile.