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Learning Curve

02 October 2020

FireQual Ltd and BAFE announced the appointment of Nic Preston as the former’s qualifications manager effective from Tuesday 1 September. Preston boasts over 14 years of experience in the training and development sector and has a proven track record in quality assurance. Here, in his first interview with the trade media, Preston offers his thoughts on the fire sector qualifications roadmap while in conversation with Brian Sims

BAFE AND the Fire Industry Association (FIA) recently announced the acquisition of the latter’s Awarding Organisation (AO) by BAFE FireQual Ltd. BAFE strongly believes this agreement heralds a significant opportunity for the fire industry to develop an exciting range of accredited qualifications designed to meet the demand for quality assurance of individual skill and expertise required by the industry.

This necessity was heightened by the Grenfell Tower fire and the subsequent reports on that tragedy compiled by Dame Judith Hackitt and the Competency Steering Group. In the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report, Dame Judith references “the lack of a coherent approach to competence levels and experience required – or professional qualifications where these may be necessary – and how these qualifications and experience should be evidenced so that they’re clearly understood by all those operating within the system.”

FireQual Ltd operates as a separate wholly-owned subsidiary of BAFE with its own independent Board of Directors. On that note, the FireQual Ltd Board is currently made up of chairman Lewis Ramsay (former Deputy Chief Fire Officer of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service), Pauline Traetto (previously the executive director of the BRE Academy), Douglas Barnett (chairman of BAFE) and also BAFE’s chief executive Stephen Adams.

FireQual Ltd will only offer examinations and qualifications and will not be delivering any training, ensuring independent oversight of training provision. FireQual Ltd will be working with licensed training organisations who’ll offer the approved syllabuses to their learners. BAFE considers this separation from training and examination/invigilation, as currently operated at BAFE with the BS 5306 fire extinguisher examination, to be important when it comes to delivering independent quality assurance of the process.

Following the acquisition, the FIA AO will continue to deliver its examinations until FireQual Ltd has established the necessary systems and delivery processes. FireQual Ltd aims to make this transition as quickly as possible with all the requirements for OFQUAL and the equivalent in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales already under way.

FireQual Ltd will be led by Nic Preston. In an exclusive interview with Fire Safety Matters’ Editor Brian Sims, Preston focuses his attentions on regulated qualifications and the importance of verifying competence in the sector.

Fire Safety Matters: Congratulations on your appointment at FireQual Ltd. What is it about this Awarding Body that made you want to take the lead on its development?

Nic Preston: My conversations with FireQual Ltd and Stephen [Adams] began some time ago. All along, I’ve been excited by what was being proposed. Building an organisation from scratch can be a challenging prospect, but also brings huge motivation to succeed. This, alongside the core belief of FireQual Ltd to work for the betterment of knowledge and skills within the fire safety industry, made it too good an opportunity to resist.

Both myself and the team at FireQual Ltd are hugely excited about the opportunities that working with stakeholders within the industry can realise over the coming weeks and months. We’re already working hard to make sure that we build a trusted organisation providing consistency and value to the fire industry both nationally and, potentially, on the international stage as well.

Fire Safety Matters: What’s your previous experience and how will this transfer to the fire industry?

Nic Preston: I’ve worked within the field of skills development for over 14 years, most recently being involved with developing and implementing growth strategies as CEO of SFEDI Awards, the Awarding Body for enterprise development. This role was centred on supporting people to start up and grow businesses. I’ve worked with many types and sizes of business over the years, as well as various individuals and Government bodies, all the while making sure their needs have been met by the education sector right across the UK.

As a result of this experience, it has become readily apparent to me that the days of dictating to industry what they need to know are thankfully long gone. It’s important that Awarding Bodies develop high quality and trusted qualifications in partnership with industry and listen to practitioners’ thoughts and ideas. They need to focus on helping to facilitate the development of qualifications that meet their needs and those of wider society.

Ultimately, I’m hoping to bring not only my knowledge of the skills and qualifications sector to bear, but also a collaborative approach towards working that means FireQual Ltd can make a tangible and really positive difference in the years to come.  

Fire Safety Matters: Some of our readers may not be fully aware of what regulated qualifications are all about. Could you explain the basics?

Nic Preston: Unlike organisational standards, regulated qualifications concentrate on the individual and their development and, on attainment, show that they’ve achieved a minimum level in a given subject area.

There are currently four regulators within the UK, but all have been created through Acts of Parliament and so have statutory powers to put in place and uphold standards, in turn helping to give these qualifications extra credibility both within the UK and internationally.

If an Awarding Body can offer regulated qualifications, then individuals can be absolutely assured that they’ve met and, importantly, continue to meet these standards and that their qualifications are fit for purpose.

All of this will be fully complimentary to the high standards that the BAFE model brings to provide third party certification of competent organisations in the fire safety sector. 

Fire Safety Matters: Can you outline the overriding importance of verifying individual competence through nationally regulated qualifications?

Nic Preston: From my perspective, the requirement for verifying individual competence is all about reliability and consistency. If an individual achieves a qualification – and it doesn’t matter where they are, be it locally, regionally, nationally or internationally – all of them must meet the same requirements. It helps to provide confidence in the knowledge and skills that person claims to have. It isn’t something they say they can do. They’ve had to prove it and, what’s more, prove it to a recognised standard.

Industry and employers, both large and small, can be confident in the knowledge and skills of those individuals that work to attain regulated qualifications, while wider society can have confidence in those individuals when it comes to them providing specific fire safety services for end users. 

Also, let’s not forget the very real sense of achievement it can give to those who attain those qualifications. They will have worked hard to develop themselves and this is a way of recognising that achievement.

Fire Safety Matters: What is your current understanding of, and indeed your thoughts on, the qualifications currently available in the fire safety industry?

Nic Preston: As is the case with many subject areas spanning the qualifications industry there are a variety of types, complexities and levels of qualification available. Sometimes, they don’t always reflect current lines of thinking and requirements. This is through no fault of anyone, it must be said. Rather, this is usually as a result of legacy developments. 

Over the last few months and years, there has been a concerted move to rethink how skills development and related qualifications can be restructured and redeveloped to meet the modern needs of those who work within different industries. Given the publication of the Hackitt Review, this has become apparent within the fire safety industry and related sectors where there’s a clear recommendation to support the strengthening of the competence of those involved in all aspects of building work.

It’s now time for Awarding Bodies to work with industry and other stakeholders on building a qualifications system that’s fit for purpose and fit for the future such that it actively supports the important changes deemed necessary in terms of how people think and work within the fire industry. This not only means a review of those qualifications that are currently available, but also an appraisal of how we expect those undertaking them to prove their knowledge and competencies in the future.

For its part, FireQual Ltd aims to play a major role within this moving forward as we look to specialise in supporting the industry, ensuring that we always keep our focus on what’s most important. In essence, the development of a consistent competency-based approach.

Fire Safety Matters: How will FireQual Ltd differentiate itself from BAFE and what’s currently being offered within the industry?

Nic Preston: BAFE has a long-standing and respected history within the industry when it comes to providing high quality, third party certification for organisations. This has been hugely important in providing confidence that those delivering fire protection services on the ground meet national standards and have been independently audited as doing so.

FireQual Ltd is different in that we’re not focusing on the organisation. We are concentrating on the individual. Whether it’s someone working for a BAFE-registered organisation or not, an individual will be able to undertake one of our qualifications in the future. This will support them to enter and/or progress within the fire safety industry. 

There will be strict separation of information between the two organisations, which is one of the reasons why FireQual Ltd has been set up as a separate company with its own Board of Directors.

*Interested parties can sign up to receive FireQual updates when new information becomes available at www.firequal.com