- 1 What is CPCS?
- 2 What is a CPCS Card?
- 3 Do I need a CPCS card?
- 4 CPCS Card Types
- 5 CPCS Card Application
- 6 CPCS Card Price
- 7 CPCS Test
- 8 CPCS Training
- 9 CPCS Card Renewal
- 10 Summary
In this article, we give an overview of who the CPCS are, what the CPCS card is and what occupations require you to have one, and we will also run through how to apply for and renew a CPCS card.
What is CPCS?
CPCS stands for the Construction Plant Competence Scheme. It is run by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) who also run the CSCS card scheme. It was set up in 2003 in order to ensure that plant workers are fully competent in their role, meet required health and safety standards and to ensure the standardisation of practices undertaken by plant workers across the UK.
The CPCS ensure the scheme is up-to-date and fit for purpose by working with feedback from within the industry, as well as ensuring the scheme adheres to any advances in technology or occupational health factors that influence individuals who work with machinery and equipment in a construction setting.
The scheme is committed to ensuring that high standards are maintained within the plant sector and do this through the assessment of plant workers who are required to meet certain criteria in order to secure a CPCS card.
What is a CPCS Card?
The CPCS card itself is an identity and competence card. It provides assurance to employers that an individual meets specified skill and qualification requirements in order to undertake their role as a plant operator. It also provides evidence that they meet the CPCS health and safety requirements. To be more specific, a ‘plant operator’ refers to anyone who works with machinery and equipment that is used on building sites.
If you work as a plant operator or are intending to pursue this role as a career, you will need a CPCS card in order to prove your competence. While it is not currently a legal requirement for construction sites to insist on plant workers having a CPCS card, you will find that most employers will require a plant worker to have one to ensure both the safety and effectiveness of their site. Sites who are members of Build UK will require you to hold a CPCS card if your role requires you to operate machinery.
The CPCS card scheme also aims to ensure that plant workers maintain their skills and knowledge over time, as well as refresh their health and safety awareness by providing periodic courses which provide training for plant workers. This intends to keep plant workers up to date with any developments in the industry and remain competent and safe workers.
Do I need a CPCS card?
If you are working in the construction industry, you are likely to need some form of ID and competence card in order to access a construction site. The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) covers a wide range of occupations in the industry, so if you do not work with plant machinery and equipment specifically it is likely that your role will be covered by a CSCS card.
The remit of the CPCS card covers the use of a wide range of construction plant and equipment (each one is known as a ‘category’), so if your role involves you to operate machinery on a construction site you are likely to need a CPCS card. The CPCS card covers the following roles:
- Plant operators
- individuals securing plant and equipment to vehicles/trailers for transportation
- individuals planning and controlling lifting operations.
For a full list of the CPCS Categories, see here.
CPCS Card Types
There are currently just three types of CPCS card. These are the Trained Operator Card (Red Card), the Competent Operator Card (Blue Card) and the Tester Card. For all of the cards, you will be required to complete both a theory and a practical test, as well as evidencing your current experience, qualifications and skill level.
The Trained Operator Card (also known as the Red Card) is the first level of CPCS card. In order to obtain this card, you must pass the CPCS Theory and Practical Technical tests and have a recent CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test (CSCS Test) certificate that is dated within the last 2 years. In order to pass the CPCS Theory and Practical Technical tests, you will need to have been trained to a specific standard (more on this below). This card is non-renewable and lasts for 2 years. It is intended that after the 2 years is up the individual will be able to apply for the Competent Operator Card.
The Competent Operator Card (also known as the Blue Card) is the next level up from the Trained Operator Card. This card provides evidence that you are fully qualified to operate a particular type of plant (unsupervised) and that you have met the required health and safety requirements in order to do so. To access this card you will need to provide evidence of your qualification, hold a valid CITB Health, Safety and Environment test certificate, and pass the CPCS Theory and Practical tests. This card is valid for 5 years and is renewable.
The Tester Card is the most advanced CPCS card and qualifies an individual to test others for the CPCS scheme. This card comes in two stages, the Provisional Card which is valid for 2 years as the individual works towards the Full card role-based competency qualification which is valid for 5 years.
CPCS Card Application
The CPCS card application is undertaken through a number of stages which requires you to have passed the practical, theory and health and safety assessments before being issued with the card. Prior to applying for a CPCS card, you will be required to have undergone training in your chosen plant or equipment type (see more on this later in the article). In this next section, we go through how to get a CPCS card step-by-step.
1. Decide which card you are eligible for
The first thing you need to do is decide which CPCS card you are eligible to apply for. As stated above, the Red Card is for the first level of CPCS card and the Blue Card is for more advanced plant workers. If you do not have a relevant NVQ or SVQ card you will not be able to apply for the Blue Card until you do.
2. Pass the CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test
In order to assess whether you meet the required health and safety knowledge to operate as a plant worker, you will need to pass the CITB Health, Safety and Awareness Test, also known as the CSCS Test. This is the same test that is required to apply for a CSCS card. The test itself consists of multiple-choice questions related to the health, safety and environmental issues in construction. It tests knowledge on a wide range of topics with the intention of ensuring an individual is aware of important safety features on a construction site, as well as aiming to improve knowledge of what makes a productive and effective construction site. Usually, the test is taken on a computer using a touch screen. Once you have been issued with your certificate this will last for 2 years. You must have passed this test before proceeding to the specific CPCS Technical Tests.
3. Pass the CPCS Theory Test
The next stage is to undertake the CPCS Theory Test. This is a test which has been set by the CPCS to test your knowledge and understanding of the CPCS category that you are an operative for. There is a specific CPCS Theory Test for each category which will vary depending on what type of plant or equipment you operate. The CPCS Theory Test needs to be taken at an approved CPCS Test Centre.
4. Pass the CPCS Practical Test
Once you have passed the relevant CPCS Theory Test you can move on to the CPCS Practical Test. This needs to be taken within six months of passing the CPCS Theory Test and whilst your CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test is still valid (so within 2 years). This test is designed to assess your abilities as an operator and you will be asked to do a series of practical activities by a CPCS Tester. All CPCS Practical Tests are delivered via an approved CPCS Test Centre.
5. Submit your documentation
Once you have got to this stage and have passed all of the necessary tests, you will be ready to submit your application. Some test centres will do this for you or you can submit your certifications and paperwork to the CPCS directly. You can request that the CPCS Test centre gives you a ‘Letter of Achievement’ after passing your CPCS Practical Test, which will grant you access to a site whilst your application is being processed and you’re waiting for your CPCS card. This temporary certification will last for 28 days. You should receive your CPCS card within 15 days of submitting all of the documentation. If you want to check the progress of your application you can call CPCS directly on 0844 815 7274.
6. Continue your professional development
If you are now the holder of a Trained Operator Card, you will need to start working towards the relevant SVQ or NVQ in your field. This is the next step in moving onto the Competent Operator card and needs to be completed within 2 years of obtaining your read card.
CPCS Card Price
There is no cost for the CPCS Card itself as the cost of the application is included within what you will have paid for your CPCS Technical Tests. The price of both the CPCS Theory Test and CPCS Practical Test will be dependent on what category you are being assessed on, as well as the test centre you are undertaking your test at. There is also the expense of the CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test which currently costs £21.
If the costs of undertaking the tests required in order to obtain a CPCS card are a difficulty for you, there are grants available from the CITB. For more information on grants and funding towards training and assessments see here.
In order to obtain a CPCS card, there is a three-stage assessment process which may seem daunting. Fortunately, there are plenty of materials available to assist you on your journey to obtaining a CPCS Card. n this next section, we will point you in the right direction of where to find them.
1. CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test (CSCS Test)
Our website contains all the information you need to know about the test as well as practice tests which will help you prepare for your assessment.
2. CPCS Theory Test
The CPCS have put together a digital revision guide which covers the learning outcomes and syllabus for the Theory Test for each individual category. You can find your category on the contents page at the beginning of the revision guide. Clicking on a particular category in the table of contents will take you to the specific question bank for that particular category. The full revision guide can be found here.
3. CPCS Practical Test
While the CPCS Practical Test is an assessment of your technical proficiency, there are some materials to help you prepare for this. You can have a look at the specifications of your practical test including how long the test will last, what activities you will be asked to do, as well as how you will be expected to complete the task in order to be signed off in that area. There is also a copy of the sign-off sheet for you to view so that you can see what the CPCS Tester will be issuing you with once you have completed your test (you will see that there is also room for your feedback on here). To find both the revision guides for Standard Practical Tests and Advanced Practical Tests, click here.
If you are new to the industry, or this article has highlighted to you that you do not yet meet the requirements in order to begin the CPCS card assessment process, there are a number of training options available to help launch your career working with plant machinery and construction site equipment. Courses are available for each of the CPCS defined categories.
It is generally easier (and more affordable) to undertake a CPCS training course when you are already working within the construction industry as your employer may sponsor you to undertake your chosen qualification. Choosing to take a CPCS training course as a private applicant is an expensive process, and there is no guarantee that you will pass your test at the end of it. Therefore, it is recommended that applicants undertake CPCS training during employment in a construction company.
Whether you are starting out as a plant operator, or already have your Competent Operator Card and are looking to add another category to your skill-set, there are a vast amount of training courses out there to choose from. A log of the approved CPCS Test Centres will also provide training courses so they are a good place to start in order to find a reputable and trustworthy training provider. If you are undertaking CPCS training through your employer, it is also likely that they will already have a trusted provider that they use.
CPCS Card Renewal
Trained Operator Card (Red Card) – No Renewal
Once you receive your CPCS card you will see that it has an expiry date on it. The Trained Operator Card (Red Card) lasts for 2 years and it non-renewable as it is expected that during these 2 years you will have undertaken a relevant NVQ course which will then qualify you to apply for the Competent Operator Card (Blue Card). When you move from the Trained Operator Card to the Competent Operator Card it will cost £25 to process that application.
Competent Operator Card (Blue Card) – Renewal
The Competent Operator Card lasts for 5 years, after which time you will need to go through the renewal process in order to demonstrate that you still meet the skill level and health and safety requirements of your role. This involves passing the relevant CITB Health, Safety and Environment (within the last 2 years), passing the CPCS Renewal Test for all of the categories that you operate, and providing one of the following:
- Provide evidence of a Logbook which should record at least 300 hours of activity per category you work on;
- Complete an on-site assessment;
- Complete a CPCS Practical Test
There card processing fee for renewals is included in the CPCS Renewal Test fees.
CPCS Tester Card – Renewal
If you hold the CPCS Tester Card, you will also be required to go through a renewal process after 5 years. In order to renew, you will need to hold a valid First Aid certificate, have a current Managing and Co-ordinating Plant course certificate, and have a current CPCS Tester CPD Course certificate. You will also be required to pass the Manager & Professionals CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test again as this test only lasts for 2 years. It costs £25 to renew the CPCS Tester Card.
The CPCS scheme is an affiliate of CSCS and is part of a safety framework to ensure that those working with plant machinery on a construction site are fully trained, certified, and meet health and safety requirements. The CSCS scheme also intends to standardise practices undertaken by plant workers across the UK in all categories.
The CPCS card is your ticket towards working as a plant operator on a construction site. Obtaining a CPCS card is not something that can be done overnight; it requires you to have completed the appropriate training course in your chosen field of operation and to pass the CPCS Technical Tests to qualify for the card. The first step is to obtain the Trained Operator Card which allows you to work as an operator as you complete a relevant NVQ. The next step is the Competent Operator Card which you can apply for once you have completed your NVQ qualification. The most advanced CPCS card is the CPCS Tester Card which qualifies an individual to test others for the CPCS scheme. All applicants for a CPCS card must also pass the relevant CITB Health, Safety and Environment test.
The Trained Operator Card is non-renewable, while the Competent Operator Card and the Tester Card can be renewed after their 5 year expiry date. If you are looking to take your CPCS Technical Tests or want to enquire about CPCS training, you can find a full list of approved CPCS Test Centres on the CPCS website.