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FICA puts candidates on the road to success

Trainees undergoing FICA tests

Fiona Harper, the Secretary of the Scottish Joint Industry Board, explains the vital role of the Final Integrated Competence Assessment (FICA)

Fiona Harper, Secretary of the Scottish Joint Industry Board

Hello Fiona. So what is FICA?

Once they’ve completed their four years of training, every apprentice electrician has to sit FICA to be awarded their SVQ in electrical installation. They also get a craftsman certificate and are graded by the SJIB as an electrician. Most are very proud that they have this endpoint assessment – and so they should be.

What format does it take?

It’s a two-day practical simulation in which candidates complete an electrical installation which they then inspect and test to ensure compliance with the regulations. It’s split into a number of sections and they must complete each one successfully to pass. It’s very robust, very rigorous and very demanding and is designed to demonstrate both their practical and theoretical knowledge.

Why does it need to be so robust?

Being an electrician carries a lot of responsibility – if you get it wrong, the consequences can be fatal, so it’s absolutely vital to do things properly in a safety-critical industry like ours.

So what would you say is the value of FICA to today’s industry?

With FICA, you have to accumulate and assimilate all the knowledge and on-site experience you’ve gained over the last four years and put it together. Yet once you’ve passed, you’re still learning. I liken it a bit to the driving test – OK, you’ve passed and you’re out on the road in the big wide world, but you’re still always learning and developing to become a better driver. So those who pass FICA aren’t quite ready to be let loose, but they’re certainly on their way and can call themselves craftsmen.

Is FICA a unique assessment?

It is pretty unique, yes. There is currently a trend for endpoint assessments and other industries are following suit, but there’s nothing quite like FICA in terms of its demands and standards and how we go about it. The main thing is that it’s industry-led – it’s not done by colleges, it’s done by the industry for the industry.

Why did it come about?

I think people wanted to be sure that the electricians that were out there knew what they were doing. This is a way of ensuring they do things right.

What’s the feedback from candidates?

Generally they’re very nervous and find it hard at the time, but once they’ve passed they have a huge sense of achievement and are very proud of it. Getting the SJIB craftsman certificate is actually just as important to them as getting the vocational qualification – that’s when they really identify with being electricians. Most consumers are not aware of just what it’s like to be trained as an electrician; I don’t think they appreciate the intensity of it or the depth or the breadth of what each candidate covers. So those that pass are quite right to feel proud. Ultimately, I’d really like candidates to feel excited about heading towards their FICA rather than being full of trepidation because when they come out the other end they truly are electricians.

What are the benefits to the customer and the wider industry?

The main thing is that we know we have true craftsmen out there, trained by the best and able to adapt to any situation. So they know the core fundamentals, but can also move from one part of the industry to another. Being flexible helps the industry as well as helping the individual. But the main thing is that the customer knows that they’re getting a proper electrician who’ll do a safe job in their home.

What does the future hold? Are you planning any changes?

Preparation is key to passing FICA first time, so we’re trying to get that message out there, both to candidates and the companies they work for. It’s not like college or university where you can rely on bits of paper or books – you have to have a lot of underpinning knowledge in your head and you have to know how to use it properly. Yes, theory is important, but practical preparation is key to passing FICA and companies need to support the apprentices in that journey. We’re also currently filming some videos to help with the preparation for the inspection and testing part of FICA. I’m really excited about seeing them as it’s one of the toughest sections.

It must be satisfying to know the future is in your hands?

It’s wonderful – they really are very special young people and their hard work is reflected in our Apprentice of the Year award at the annual SELECT Awards. The nominees have to be good to get there and are all quite amazing people – I just wish we could have three winners because they are all exceptional.

If you require further information about the SJIB, visit them online or call them on 0131 445 9216

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