Matt Downs sat down with Jon Vanstone, Chair of RoofCERT, to hear where the new accreditation is at, and what implications it will have for roofers and the wider sector…
“We don’t want to launch just another badge into the market,” Jon Vanstone, Chair of RoofCERT, tells me as we sit down to discuss RoofCERT – the accreditation scheme for roofing that looks set to shape the way the sector works and is perceived in the future. He’s well aware what’s at stake with this colossal undertaking: “There’s been too many failures at making these sort of things work in other areas of construction – if you do it, you do it right or you don’t do it all.”
After a soft launch in late 2017, RoofCERT has been around for some time, but up until recently it’s fair to say a real understanding in the market of what it is or what it means has been at best patchy. I put this to Jon: “We’d love to have solved it overnight, but the fact is by taking time, talking to people and by continuously looking at what we’re doing, we’ve got a better product.”
Identify as RoofCERT accredited
I ask Jon how roofers will be able to identify as RoofCERT accredited, is it a badge, is it a certificate, is it your name on a database? “It’s all those things,” explained Jon. “The database is the access to the CPD learning which is crucial.” Jon explained that the card is currently under development and the team are “working with other construction sectors to see what has worked and what has failed,” but the card will be key to “helping roofers identify as RoofCERT accredited” and building that trust with customers.
There’s been too many failures – you do it right or you don’t do it all
As Jon pointed out, collaboration has been key to getting the accreditation to where it is today. He explained that RoofCERT will test and accredit across all the major disciplines including, slating, slating and tiling, tiling, single ply with the assistance of SPRA, liquids with the assistance of LRWA, felt/RBM, whilst metals alongside FTMRC and Mastic Asphalt with MAC will launch in the coming months: “The fact that other trade associations have got involved and helped is very, very important. Nothing RoofCERT has decided has been decided behind closed doors – it’s been decided by people in the industry and replayed which naturally takes time, but it’s time well spent.”
Whilst not unique to roofing, the issues around skills, image and perception are at the heart of what RoofCERT wants to tackle. The tragedy at Grenfell has shone a light on operatives and the uncertainty around Brexit has thrown up some real challenges for the sector, not least skilled workers leaving – but as Jon explained, RoofCERT can help address some of these concerns: “We have a number of issues as a sector – and it’s not unique to roofing – but roofing has actually put its name to this and said we’re going to do something about this.”
Jon continued: “If you create a professional industry – and I’m not saying there aren’t professional workers in the industry today – but a professional structure that says ‘you join here, here’s the accreditation programme, here’s the learning for the journey and here’s the path afterwards – there’s a path to running my own business that provides for my family’, it’s a more attractive proposition.”
However, saying you’re going ‘professionalise’ something, or overhaul a sector can quite rightly alarm some and may be met with some resistance: “When you say you’re going to ‘professionalise’ people think I have to go to an exam centre and I have to sit all this stuff, and it’s very nerve wracking – You cannot enforce an industry to suddenly qualify and we know this from history where an industry has said ‘well we think you should all be qualified’ and the workforce has said: ‘well you know what, maybe I should leave, maybe it’s time to retire’, so you have to get it right.”
As such, RoofCERT caters for both qualified roofers who have a National / Scottish Vocational Qualification and three years’ experience – and experienced roofers who don’t have a Vocational Qualification but have five years’ experience that they can prove. As much as it’s for the individual, RoofCERT recognises that it needs employers to buy into the importance of the scheme so they look to continuously upskill their workforce – a crucial aspect of maintaining standards in the sector.
Knowledge tests – an active pipeline
As Jon and I talk there are a number of participants carrying out their knowledge tests in the next room at Roofing House in London. You can see there’s a real camaraderie between the participants who have clearly embraced the tests and staff report back they enjoy the competitive element and the idea they can further demonstrate their skills to the wider industry. Jon explained: “We’ve got an active pipeline going through – we’re doing testing every week as you can see, and we’re about to launch the Roof Training Group element where they can do testing on our behalf which increases the volume of candidates progressing through.”
Jon pointed out that the various Workshop Groups they’ve held have been an invaluable source of information in terms of getting RoofCERT to where it is today, and it has taught them to listen rather than to dictate: “We gave a lot of answers early on – with the workshops, in the beginning we designed them to tell people ‘this is RoofCERT’ but we realised very quickly a better use of time was to take a collective view, listen to what people had to say and adapt – we are listening to what people are saying – so actually for once it is by industry, for industry.”
Cost of accreditation and driving uptake
Despite its grand aspirations and the long-term benefits it will offer both the individual and wider industry, as always, cost will be a real factor for uptake of RoofCERT. Jon explained: “The first 5,000 accreditations for a single discipline are free and they last for 3 years – there will be a sustainable element to the programme coming which will tell more about the cost in the future – so whereas I can’t tell you an exact price, I can tell you it will be highly competitive, particularly compared to other areas of construction.”
As one of the goals of RoofCERT is to clean up the sector and address ‘rogue roofers’, I touch on the idea of RoofCERT being mandatory, much like Gas Safe has worked in the plumbing sector; is that a goal? Jon explained: “To get to a mandatory position is a long way off – as it is for any sector – Gas is mandatory because it’s under Health & Safety Executive and delivers a list of legally qualified gas engineers throughout the UK.”
Jon explained that it’s more about creating relationships in the supply chain and with external stakeholders such as Main Contractors, Housing Associations, Housebuilders, Insurance suppliers, Financiers, that will drive take-up and recognition of RoofCERT: “The mandatory element isn’t required – it needs to be seen that RoofCERT is a solution to certain things – so from a commercial element in your requirements you know that wherever you are in the country, if they are RoofCERT accredited they can do that job – using a RoofCERT accredited roofer will reduce onsite issues, they’ll be up to date and can provide that confidence.” Jon feels this will then filter through to the homeowner: “The homeowner – who will often be the last tier – will say ‘well, we see it (RoofCERT) elsewhere and we need these people and I can trust them and they know what they’re doing.” He continued: “You get that chicken and egg environment which RoofCERT is all about. RoofCERT funds the first 5,000 accredited because it proves the model – we’ve actually proved the model already with 300 people going through the process – but what it will do is start gaining that critical mass that enables people to write it in because the moment you have national coverage, people (housebuilders, Main Contractors etc.) can start specifying and demanding it.”
We cannot kill the cowboy, we can simply reduce the shadows they hide in
Jon continued: “Much as we’re talking to some big housebuilders – Taylor Wimpey have given a lot of good time and advice into our programme – they can’t currently specify it because if they did, there’s not enough RoofCERT accredited roofers to fulfil projects currently”, but Jon hopes this will come.
Playing devil’s advocate I ask Jon why, if I’m a successful roofer doing things correctly, would I spend the time and cost to get accredited? surely there’s always going to be cowboys and rogue roofers around to give the sector a bad name? Jon explained: “’We cannot kill the cowboy, we can simply reduce the shadows they hide in’ is the phrase I’d use.” He continued: “There are a lot of roofers out there doing incredibly good work, and because of the way they find their work through recommendations or contacts, they don’t need it to survive, but RoofCERT could become the difference between winning a job and not, simply because the other person is accredited, even though you’re as competent as they are. And those are the people we really want on our funded element to say ‘look, this is my evidence that I’m good at what I’m doing’ because if you can attract those ones in, they are the shining beacons that attract others.”
So where is RoofCERT now, and what’s still to do? Jon said: “It’s done a lot more work than I originally thought it had to do, but it has turned out well and I like the engagement we’ve got with people, with bodies – I think it’s great people like NHBC, Taylor Wimpey are talking to us about the positive aspects of the scheme, how they can get involved and how they can help.
“The fact we’ve got roofers doing testing every week is great; the fact that we’re expanding the scope of what we can test is great (Jon told me talks are underway to look at Rainscreen Cladding as a discipline, but there are wider issues to resolve before that can happen); I think the fact we’re getting positive feed-back as well as comments on how we can evolve is great. We’re taking these on board and making sure we communicate it well.”
Jon concluded: “What we’re interested in finding out now is what people are worried about; what are you thinking and what worries you? Particularly given the path construction is taking – what other issues can RoofCERT get involved in and be part of the solution?”
When you start talking about professionalising an industry, quite rightly those operating within the sector can become quite protective. It implies changing the way things are done – and sure there is an element of this with RoofCERT, but I’d say it’s more about taking what’s positive in the sector, adapting this and putting in place a professional structure that sets roofers on a level with others such as electricians and plumbers – and moves the sector and operatives away from the handyman / general builder image that those outside of roofing often label it with. An accreditation will help roofing present itself as a positive career option for new entrants, whilst still attracting workers from the traditional routes, pitch it as a specialist skill in the eyes of the supply chain and customers, and ultimately raise standards and enable operatives to command higher prices on projects – all positives that will help secure the future of roofing and position it well for the many challenges the wider construction industry continues to face.
For further info on RoofCERT and becoming an accredited roofer visit: www.roofcert.co.uk