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14th October 2019

An Essential Guide for Training to be a Crane Operator

Learning the art of operating a crane is one of the more difficult challenges that can be undertaken within the construction industry. Dealing with unfamiliar technologies and complex lifts means that the prospect can seem daunting to many, particularly when you’re not really sure what you need to know – but that just makes it all the more rewarding when you’ve mastered the skills required to develop a successful career.

staff member

An Essential Guide for Training to be a Crane Operator – Part One

There are a number of schemes which can provide the appropriate qualifications that will get you set up for doing just that. However, the most widely accepted (and demanded by industry) is the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS), which involves being trained to national standards that have been determined by construction industry technical specialists.

Ainscough Crane Hire’s policy, therefore, demands that the CPCS card is a mandatory requirement for all of our crane staff, thus ensuring that they will become fully competent for their role.

CPCS is not an effortless route into operating plant in the construction industry – the training process culminates in demanding theory and practical tests. This training is followed by formal on-going assessment methods which form part of industry support mechanisms for plant operators.

Fortunately, at Ainscough, our expert machinists boast considerable experience, and can provide trainees with guidance regarding the understanding of both the basics and complexities of the job in hand. We have pooled our knowledge together to create an easy guide for prospective students, explaining the ins and outs of the training process.

We will break down the answers to all the questions you might have found yourself asking, along with those you may not have even thought of yet.

What else is a CPCS card good for?

Perhaps being a Mobile Crane Operator (MCO) is not a role you have considered before, or perhaps you would like to consider some other employment opportunities before deciding what is best for you.

In that case, good news! There are a number of other positions within the crane sector (and construction industry as a whole) that involve undergoing exactly the same process as becoming an MCO (subject to successful completion of training and testing). Alongside MCOs, there are CPCS categories for roles as a Crane Supervisor, Slinger/Signaller and Appointed Person.

Do I need CPCS training?

Not necessarily – there are other schemes/routes available to candidates who wish to be a crane operator. However, opportunities for employment may be reduced as CPCS is the most widely-accepted scheme for plant operators in the construction industry.

Ainscough is committed to our policy of ‘Make the Safe Choice’, which ensures safety is a top priority for every member of our team. As such, Ainscough chooses CPCS as the most robust, safest scheme that enables us (as an employer), and you (as a crane operator), to feel secure in our abilities to get a job done to the highest possible standards of safety.

Do I need a Construction Skills Certification Card (CSCS) as well?

Simply put: no. CSCS and CPCS cards are often confused. However, the CSCS card is a registration scheme that records your level of academic achievement in the construction industry and is not a competency qualification. Whilst useful, it is not a necessity. The schemes are affiliated to each other.

Where do I start?

Choosing the CPCS route for operating plant means you will need to first undertake a 45-minute Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) touchscreen test at a recognised Pearson Vue Test Centre. This must be completed before the CPCS Technical Test (at the end of the CPCS training) can be attempted. Preferably, the test should be completed before training commences.

This test is a fundamental requirement in improving core safety knowledge across the industry. Test centres are located in many towns and cities and a live system of booking means that almost any time or date is typically freely available. The HSE test currently costs £21.

There’s no limit to the number of times you can take the test but bear in mind that each re-sit must be paid for, at a cost of £21 per attempt.

Booking a session requires only a few necessary items: a credit/debit card, and national insurance number or CITB registration number. Getting in contact is just as easy, you can either ring online at 0344 994 4488, or else use the online booking portal.

Revision materials are available at various prices, and you can select your preferred revision resources by visiting the following website.

So, I’ve passed the HSE test – what next?

Once you’ve passed your HSE test, you can begin preparing to undergo your chosen CPCS training course. This intensive training course encompasses all of the necessary information and skills needed for successful qualification.

The first stage is to find a CPCS training provider – find your nearest by clicking here.

How much can I expect to pay for the training and how long does the training last?

CostNumber of Theory Test QuestionsTraining Length
Crane Supervisor£900-1000684 days
Appointed Person£900-1000785 days
Slinger/Signaller£900-1000854 days
Mobile Crane Operator£2,500737-10 days

Are there tests associated with CPCS training?

Yes. CPCS training culminates in a CPCS Technical Test. This comprises a Theory Test followed by a Practical Test. During the first test, you will undergo a verbal exam to evaluate the lessons you have learnt from the course. This will be conducted by a CPCS Tester in a controlled environment and recorded for auditing purposes.

In the Practical Test, an assessment will take place, which examines your ability to use the item of plant/machinery you have been trained on. It should be noted that there are mandatory fails for specific explicit limitations in your performance.

The one exception to this process is for the role of Appointed Person. Here, your Practical Test will instead be a desktop planning exercise. However, assessment still takes place within a controlled environment, and you will receive the standard CPCS Red card upon successful completion of the training and testing.
If you’re concerned about how you might perform, all potential questions can be found by visiting the NOCN Job Card portal. Try not to feel too intimated by the process however – with an expected 80% pass rate, you are allowed some mistakes.

What happens once I have my Red card?

Once you have passed the Theory and Practical tests, you will receive your CPCS Trained Operator card and become recognised as a newly trained operator and fully-fledged member of CPCS. Your CPCS Trained Operator (Red) card will be valid for two years. However, this is perhaps better thought of as the ‘provisional stage’ (think of it as the ‘L’ plate) of crane operation. Newly trained operators still require full and close supervision until deemed sufficiently experienced to operate unsupervised.

Certain companies may give further support for you to develop your newfound skills. Here at Ainscough, we mandate that all CPCS Red card holders undergo an Employee Work Shadowing programme over 21 days, which enables us to manage an individual’s performance against job-specific requirements.

So how long until I become a fully competent operator?

With a two year period of validity for your CPCS Trained Operator card, there is no real rush for you to reach full competency. Time length varies from person to person, although most operators are typically ready for assessment after around three to six months.

Once you feel your training has allowed you to perform your role at a safe and skilled level, you can begin looking at achieving a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in the use of the item of plant that you have been trained on.

An Essential Guide for Training to be a Crane Operator – Part Two

In the first part of our guide we explored the qualifications needed to get to the point where you can operate a crane. Once you’ve achieved those, you need to attain a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) to be deemed as competent.

The NVQs associated with crane occupations are as follows:

  • Mobile Crane Operator – Level 2 Award in Plant Operations (Mobile Crane Operator)
  • Slinger/Signaller – Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Controlling Lifting Operations (Slinger/Signaller)
  • Crane Supervisor – Level 4 NVQ Diploma in Controlling Lifting Operations (Crane Supervisor)
  • Appointed Person – Level 5 NVQ Diploma in Controlling Lifting Operations (Appointed Person)

What’s next?

Although the assessment process is less formal than acquiring a Red card, you will still need to approach a specialist NVQ Assessment Centre to register for an NVQ. Generally, most CPCS training facilities are capable of providing this service.

What’s involved in an NVQ assessment?

The assessment process will be related to the role you are carrying out and the experience you have accrued since your formal training.

Your assessment will be carried out in the workplace by an Assessor experienced in the profession in question, who will compile their analyses into a portfolio.

This portfolio will cover a number of areas: The Assessor viewing you operating the item of plant, witness testimonies and professional discussions

Once your portfolio is complete, the Assessor will submit the evidence for internal and external verification. This is to ensure that the qualification was properly delivered, to a consistent standard and in accordance with all assessment criteria.

This can be a bit of a lengthy process, taking around four to six weeks. However, you will still be able to carry out your role using your CPCS Trained Operator card whilst awaiting endorsement of your achievement. At the end of the verification period, you will be issued with a certificate of achievement for the NVQ associated with your crane occupation.

The issue of the certificate means that you are now deemed competent and your Red card can then be upgraded to a CPCS Competent Operator card (Blue). Your NVQ is a lifetime skill and has no expiry date. As a valuable qualification within the construction industry, it is also one you can take great pride in having achieved.

However, the resulting CPCS Competent Operator Card (Blue) does have a lifespan.

How long is my Blue card valid for?

The CPCS Competent Operator card (Blue) is valid for five years. As part of the on-going assessment process to renew this card, you will need to demonstrate your operating ability through entries into your personal CPCS Logbook, which is issued by CPCS with your first Blue Card. This must be used to record plant operating hours. This is the only validated method of evidencing hours, so its upkeep is crucial.

Entries serve to detail the number of hours that you have operated in the respective job role that you have been trained to complete (for example, Mobile Crane Operator or Slinger/Signaller). Your logbook will be regularly checked by CPCS logbook ‘Monitors’ who are specially employed to ensure that all entries are being appropriately submitted. Their checks are randomly implemented, and sanctions can be authorised to operators who are not adhering to scheme rules, so it’s important to stay in a strict logbook routine.

What do I record in my CPCS logbook?

Here is a full list of information which should be properly recorded on the operating pages of the CPCS logbook:

  • Your name
  • Category endorsement
  • Categories/Items of plant that you are using
  • Number of hours that you are recording for each job/project
  • A site address for where you have been working
  • Signature of a supervisor who can endorse your listed hours

How many hours do I need to record?

300 hours (per category on your CPCS Competent Operator Card). Whilst this might sound like a lot, over half a decade, the amount equates to 60 hours per year, or five hours per month.

Who checks the hours recorded in my CPCS logbook?

Once you have reached the time to renew your CPCS Competent Operator card, your Logbook can be checked and endorsed by company CPCS-approved ‘Validators’, who have CPCS approval to complete the rear pages of the CPCS Logbook and countersign the CPCS Form F1/3, which is the form required for submission to CPCS to renew your card.

At Ainscough Crane Hire, this responsibility lies within the QHSE function. The QHSE team are all approved CPCS Validators who can support and advise you on the completion of your logbook and any other CPCS-related queries you may have. We will also help with funding towards the card and processes involved, giving you one less thing to worry about.

What if I have accrued insufficient hours?

If you are unable to accrue the required hours, then there is no need to panic. CPCS also provide an On Site Assessment (OSAT) process, which takes approximately 40 minutes to complete and can be used as a substitute in the absence of operating hours. This can take place at a CPCS test centre or in the workplace. It can only be coordinated through an approved CPCS Test Centre.

When do I renew my Blue card?

It is worth starting the renewal process several months before the expiry of your CPCS Competent Operator card. This allows plenty of time for the renewal process.

Do I still need to record my operating hours as an Appointed Person or Crane Supervisor?

Technically, yes. Although the CPCS also allow for renewal using a competence assessment scheme, this is an employer endorsed method of acknowledging operating ability and is only available to Appointed Persons and Crane Supervisors.

Is there a test to renew my CPCS Competent Operator card?

Yes. Each plant category attracts a specific CPCS Renewal Test. It can be a confusing process trying to work out which one applies to your specific job role.

Luckily, CPCS utilise an online Module Matcher to help you to establish which CPCS Renewal Test categories you will need to renew your Blue card.

Kept short and simple as 15 minute online touchscreen tests, each cost £25 (this includes the cost of renewing your CPCS) and a maximum of five can be booked at once. You can establish your specified renewal test here, alongside the Module Matcher programme. Here, you can also find the CPCS ‘factsheets’, which hold all the information and revision advice you will need to pass your test.

Do the categories expire?

It is important to note that with each new category added to the card, its authority will still expire on the same date as the earliest addition. As compensation, CPCS will accept pro rata hours for newer categories, so as to avoid too many lost hours.

Can I use my Enhanced Learning Credits to fund my training?

Enhanced Learning Credits are granted by the Ministry of Defence to support training programmes for ex-military workers. There are a large number of CPCS training providers registered with Enhanced Learning Credits Administration Services (ELCAS) and you can certainly transfer your Learning Credits as a source of funding for training.

However, this can only be done under specific requirements. Enhanced Learning Credits are only available for courses which are Level 3 and above, which means that they are specifically applicable to Crane Supervisor and Appointed Person training/testing.

We hope that both parts of this guide have proven to be useful, but if you have any further questions about developing a career as a crane operator please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Call Us today on 0800 272 637