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Slaying the FICA myths

From recent apprentice feedback, it’s clear that the Final Integrated Competence Assessment (FICA) has a mythology all of its own. Here, we put three of the most popular preconceptions to the sword – and hopefully make this rite of passage a little less daunting for future candidates

Okay, FICA is challenging. But with the right preparation, many apprentices complete it at their first attempt. So why do so many misconceptions still exist?

FICA centres are licensed by the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB), who review them with National Electrotechnical Training (NET). Part of this quality audit involves interviewing the apprentices sitting FICA.

Feedback from recent one-to-ones saw a general view that FICA “wasn’t as bad as I expected” and content “made sense and was fair” (I’m paraphrasing slightly). Other candidates said that, contrary to expectation, centre assessment staff were supportive and helped put them at ease throughout.

So far, so good. However, on further discussion, it was clear that some preconceptions still remained…

MYTH 1: The FICA assessment is secret

While the exact content of the marking statements and strategy remain confidential, there’s a wealth of available information to help apprentices prepare to sit FICA.

Preparation is essential for each section, and the apprentices who pass first time are always those who do the most work beforehand. As well as preparing for the day itself, candidates should also get as much practical work-based experience for each of the different skillsets being tested.

The SJIB website ( has a FICA section with information to help candidates prepare for the assessment and an image of an actual FICA booth. Information on the website is aimed at both employers and apprentices and is constantly being reviewed and updated.

For example, the SJIB recently commissioned a series of bite-sized inspection and test videos, which are now available on the site. These were introduced to help apprentices get access to accurate guidance as they prepare to sit the inspection and test section.

A FICA candidate checklist on the site is also designed to be completed together by apprentices and employers to help prepare. And information evenings held by the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) are another excellent opportunity to learn more.

All this help reinforces the maxim there’s no value in attempting FICA unprepared. After all, a candidate’s first attempt is paid for through the SJIB training programme and the second by their employer. But apprentices themselves pay for any subsequent attempts – so sitting it without sufficient preparation and workplace experience can be frustrating and costly.

MYTH 2: FICA has tricky elements designed to deliberately mislead

Sorry to disappoint you, but there are no trick questions and no trick instructions, either written or verbal.

FICA’s only purpose is to focus on the key skills needed for each skill area, be that inspection and testing or composite installation. It’s there to test your ability to follow instructions – which is why it’s vital that candidates read and follow the specification carefully, and then undertake key electrical skills properly.

Each part of FICA is carefully monitored to ensure the instructions are clear and fair. The FICA Review Group oversees the whole process and helps to ensure the assessment is consistently transparent and to the standard expected by the industry.

It’s also important to ensure that apprentices haven’t picked up any bad habits on site, which is why going back to college notes to study best practice can be worthwhile. The less familiar an apprentice is with a skill area, the more they can over-complicate the task or make mistakes as a result of inexperience. That’s why both work experience and FICA-focused preparation is essential.

The useful Candidate Things to Remember handout from the SJIB contains information to prevent apprentices making basic mistakes that can stop them passing a section.

MYTH 3: Assessors look to fail apprentices

Again, I’m paraphrasing, but before taking FICA, many apprentices said they expected the assessors to be watching them like hawks to find any excuse to mark them negatively. Many also said they expected the assessors to be unapproachable. However, when it came to the day itself, these same candidates said were surprised how approachable they were and the steps they took to put them at ease.

Of course, the assessors can’t give candidates answers or help them with what to do – that would defeat the whole purpose. But they can answer any questions the apprentice may have on the instructions, and do their best to help with any concerns during the assessment.

The assessors are motivated by seeing good apprentices succeed – it makes their job enjoyable. They really do want to see well-prepared apprentices pass first time. It’s why they all stress the need for preparation and work-based experience as the not-so-secret ‘secret’ to a first-time pass.

Any further feedback on FICA or the resources created to help apprentices is always welcome. The existing resources were created after employer feedback, so we’re always keen to hear more. To give feedback about FICA and its resources, email me at or call me on 0131 445 557.


What Is Fica?

FICA is the final unit of the SQA/SJIB SVQ in Electrical Installation at SCQF Level 7.

Designed by a team of electrotechnical experts, with additional employer input, it tests an apprentice’s practical skills and knowledge against core industry competencies.

It’s well respected throughout the industry and helps employers to know that successful candidates are well placed to work in a wide range of roles to high standards.

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