What does the ECS card represent?

If you work on commercial sites or sub-contract to larger contractors, the chances are you’ll be asked for an ECS card. But what does the card represent? And what is the process that sits behind each application?

ECS stands for the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme – it’s a partner of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), so anyone in an electrotechnical-related occupation who’s told ‘you need a CSCS card’ – the ECS scheme is the one to apply for.

However, the overriding thing to bear in mind is that the ECS is a certification scheme, not a card application scheme. Each applicant has their skills assessed and certified based on the qualifications evidence they submit.

The card they receive represents the grade they have been awarded following this skills certification process – so for instance Installation Electrician, Maintenance Electrician, Site Manager, Datacomms Installer and so on.

A common misconception that has grown over the years is that people think simply: “I would like a gold card, here's my application and money.”

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. In order for the scheme to be robust and unbiased, the decision on what grade and, ultimately, which card an applicant receives is based purely on the evidence they can provide to show which qualifications they hold.

This means the industry, clients and employers can have confidence that if a person is holding a particular card, it means they have the skills in line with the occupation listed on that card.

The standard you need to be certified as an Installation Electrician and receive an ECS gold card is NVQ Level 3. So even if you trained decades ago, providing you gained what was seen at the industry-recognised standard at the time, you would be eligible providing you can supply proof of your qualifications.

We often get asked: who sets these standards? Whilst the Joint Industry Board (JIB) and Scottish JIB jointly own the ECS, we do not determine what constitutes a qualified electrician. That judgment is made by a collaboration of industry employees and employers via Unite the Union, Electrical Contractors’ Association and SELECT – this group convenes and agrees the rules of ECS and what qualifications are required at each level.

The NVQ Level 3, and its predecessors in their time, is judged as the current industry standard as it combines practical skills, knowledge and experience. These three elements together provide a structure of the key responsibilities necessary in any activities and tasks carried out when working unsupervised on electrotechnical systems.

Whilst the industry ideal is for everyone to hold this qualification, we appreciate that this is not currently the case. There are thousands of electricians around the UK who have learnt on the job, perhaps undertaking a theory based qualification at college, and have been operating like this for many years.

It can be frustrating for someone in this situation who may indeed be running a successful business, but just does not have the NVQ Level 3 standard to back up an ECS application for Installation Electrician and, ultimately, the gold card.

To help these people there are a number of options available to get them certified by ECS.

One route is to apply into the scheme to have their skills certified with their current qualifications – they may not receive the gold card, but will still receive an award, perhaps Experienced Worker, Labourer or Trainee depending on what evidence is provided. This provides a card to allow the individual to get on site, which is often the most pressing aim.

Once the individual gains more qualifications they can update their certification with ECS and, if they qualify to NVQ Level 3, upgrade to a gold card.

If it’s the Installation Electrician standard and gold card that is needed, we have developed a route that helps the individual reach the required standard.

The Mature Candidate Assessment is available from a number of training providers across the country. It involves meeting with a specialist assessor to examine your existing experience and qualifications, and completing an assessment programme that allows you to demonstrate your knowledge and skills.

As part of the assessment, the candidate needs to sit the industry benchmark AM2 test, which is the independent assessment of occupational competence. The assessor will also need to visit a site to verify your work and you must also supply witness testimonials of previous work.

Once the assessment has been passed, it gives you a qualification equal to NVQ Level 3 standard, allowing you to be certified as Installation Electrician and receive an ECS gold card.

We hope that by raising awareness of the scheme and how it works, we can help electricians and electrical contractors fully understand what’s involved as part of the application process and what they need in order to successfully certify their skills.