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Industry Insight

01 October 2020

In the first instalment of a regular series exclusive to Fire Safety Matters, Ian Moore takes the opportunity to reflect on the Fire Industry Association’s recent decision to sell its Awarding Organisation to BAFE and what it means for industry qualifications going forward

HERE AT the Fire Industry Association (FIA), where remote working has necessarily been the norm in recent months, the office is now staffed once again as we continue to function in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government’s mandated isolation measures are in place. We’re using heat guns for testing, etc and also managing to run face-to-face training.

We’re not back to normal, but as near to normal as is deemed acceptable at the present time. It’s good for morale among the team when we’re in the office and good to have face-to-face conversations. As human beings we tend to react to expressions. Although they’ve proven vital since late March, you cannot make such contact on Teams or Zoom. This is what many of us miss.

Last month, as reported in detail by Fire Safety Matters, we sold our Awarding Organisation to BAFE. A great many of you will be wondering: ‘Why?’ We were formed in 2007 by dint of the merger of the Fire Extinguishing Trades Association and the British Fire Protection Systems Association. BAFE was registered back in 1986 and sat within the stable of Trade Associations before becoming fully independent (with its own Secretariat) in 2009.

At that juncture it was logical for BAFE to stand on its own two feet. The organisation had reached a certain level of maturity. The decision for it to ‘fly solo’ was a solid one and has proven to be such in the intervening years.

Pointing to parallels

Fast forward to today and the present situation exhibits some parallels. OFQUAL was always very keen that we demonstrably separated the Training Centre from the Awarding Organisation (AO). That demarcation was physically strong in the office, but nonetheless both were in the same space. As much as we had different servers and different staffing for both, and there was no conferring, both operations were still resident under the one roof. We had to continually prove to the outside world that the separation was bona fide.

The idea of selling the AO to BAFE emerged some time ago, in fact, and had been under careful and thorough discussion. BAFE imparted a strong offer, but it was never about money. Yes, there’s money involved because we have to repay our members for their investments into all of this, but it was more about the right home for the AO. The recipient had to be an independent organisation and BAFE was (and is) the logical fit.

The FIA is a thought leader. The idea of devising Level 3 qualifications in the fire industry is the direction in which we wanted to travel on the back of having third party certification for member companies. We’re not only looking at the competency of companies, but also individuals. However, Government will not mandate this. There’s no chance of that happening. Rather, Government is looking for industry to create the pull-through, shall we say. In other words, individuals should start to demand that practitioners are qualified to do the job they’re being hired to do. Now that the aforementioned qualifications are in place, there’s absolutely no excuse for that not to be the case. 

In certain situations, there may be a focus on plausible denial. Individuals will say: “Well, I think I’ve done the best that I could do”. Well, no you haven’t. As the host organisation you could have hired qualified individuals and qualified companies to do the job. This the mantra. We’re going to start pushing hard on industry to make this point at every possible opportunity.

Continuity of delivery 

Returning to the AO, the foremost point we’re trying to put across to everyone centres on continuity. There will be no difference for learners in terms of the value of what they receive. The processes will be exactly the same. The ‘customer’, if you like, will see no difference other than the fact that, on their certificate(s), it will say ‘FireQual Ltd’ (the registered company set up to operate the new AO) whereas previously it read ‘FIA AO’.

BAFE is understandably very excited about the deal. They see it as a true extension of their offer. From our point of view, the AO going to BAFE is a good decision and one we’re proud of. We’re really looking forward to continuing to work with BAFE. We’re still going to be involved in terms of helping to guide BAFE as best we can. The next two months will really be the litmus test for us to make sure that the transition is a seamless one. We have teams dedicated to making sure that’s the case.

Next year is going to be a pivotal 12 months for the fire sector. There are lots of elements coming towards fruition. Key decisions will need to be made in several different areas and it’s going to be down to the industry to play its part in making it all happen. As a Trade Association, we’re all about raising the bar on information, guidance and professionalism. Representing our members, we’ll be at the fulcrum of the debate.

Ian Moore is CEO of the Fire Industry Association (www.fia.uk.com)