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Six years ago, the FIA went down the path of setting up an OFQUAL registered Awarding Organisation (FIA AO) to offer qualifications in fire detection and alarm systems (with other areas to come at a later date). This was undertaken to comply with our members’ request as part of raising the bar on professionalism in our industry.
Stronger and broader training - not just a one-day course but a multi-day syllabus that covers all necessary subjects culminating with a strictly invigilated examination awarding nationally recognised Level 3 qualifications to the successful candidates. Level 3 is significantly higher than anything ever offered but is in line with the requirements of EN16763 that states a Level 3 qualification is required (for unsupervised works on site and a level we believe will be mandated once the full effect of the Hackitt Review is felt).
One of the decisions we had to make was whether to continue to deliver the same Unit One courses, which everyone was really happy with and thousands of people a year passed these exams (and to be honest a great source of revenue for the FIA). Although a strong syllabus and accepted by the industry as the best course at the time; it was time to raise the bar as requested. I state this as the FIA have been accused of making the courses longer (therefore more expensive) and making it deliberately difficult to pass therefore more fees for a resit. This is simply not true - the FIA is a not-for-profit organisation that reinvests profit into research projects based on improving life safety from fire for the public.
Following the Grenfell tragedy, the Dame Judith Hackitt report used the word “competency” 152 times in her report – clearly an issue. The work is now how to “define” competency in all areas and we have a head start with our qualifications.
Now the problem; we are trying to get learners to take these courses and examinations (foundation followed by discipline specific i.e. design, install, commission and maintain) seriously by investing the time and effort prior to and during the training course. We have invested heavily into preparing and offering access courses (for foundation currently and maintainer shortly), reading materials, learning videos etc. to bring the level up pre-course to give the learners (even experienced people who were looking for “grandfather rights”) every chance of passing. The problem is that that message is not getting through and most are totally unprepared leading to an inevitable failure.
On our side we are working on your “Return on Investment”. By trying to get Government and industry to accept that this is the minimum qualifications to be working on life safety systems independently and this may well happen following the work coming out of the Hackitt Review (as mentioned previously). In addition, we are working on a “statutory defence” for anyone using suitably qualified people and companies.
We recommend that you put learners on the Access Course if they need extra support or as a stepping stone before attempting the qualification module. These are in the style of the old units of training and an FIA certificate of attendance will be provided. Encourage the people you send on all courses to take advantage of the pre-course learning materials, ensure they have the time to learn overnight during the course and let them know that we have proven that the harder you work leading up to and during the training, the better chance they have of passing and becoming an asset to your company.
06 October 2023
By Neil Budd, FIA Technical manager
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