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PLASA case study

Bespoke scheme raises the bar for technical skills in the live events and entertainments arena

Pioneering the development of skills cards and qualifications for the live events and entertainment industry, PLASA’s National Rigging Certificate is endorsed by major UK venues and has set the standard for future professional development schemes.  Expert support from EAL through its External Verification Service has provided an extra layer of integrity for the scheme.

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PLASA2The challenge

PLASA’s worldwide membership exceeds 1,100 companies and individuals, making it the leading professional body for those supplying technologies and services to the live events and entertainment industries.  Working closely with national and international regulators to develop standards and promote safety, it has also sought to address the absence of any route to recognise competence and skills in the industry.

The Working at Height Regulations magnified an existing problem for riggers, who had no means of proving their ability to work safely with lifting or suspension equipment to install, maintain and remove display, production, performance or event setups.  In extreme cases, it left experienced riggers barred from sites where they were contracted to work.  At the same time, faced with rising insurance costs, employers were concerned both that the industry was vulnerable to the intrusion of unskilled labour, and that a solution might be imposed on them that was unfit for purpose.

The solution

PLASA took on the development of the National Rigging Certificate (NRC) on behalf of rigging employers, and called upon EAL for an external quality stamp to guarantee its integrity – through its bespoke certification service. The NRC is based on successful skill cards in other sectors, and adapts the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) model to assess learners’ competence.PLASA4

Having launched the scheme in 2007, PLASA approached EAL to deliver external verification training to PLASA’s own team. EAL’s knowledge of quality assurance and regulatory practice shaped a nine-month training programme giving them the understanding to oversee their network of Centres who deliver the assessments.

EAL’s External Verifier implemented a series of workshops on how assessments can be quality assured, before inviting PLASA staff to shadow EAL Centre visits to support the development of their own external verification processes.  “The sessions were well structured and very appropriate to the level of support we needed,” explains Nicky Greet, PLASA’s European head of skills and development.  “It closed the loop and solved the last part of the puzzle to successfully externally verify the NRC.  The hands-on approach of EAL’s External Verification Service is very fair and supportive.  It introduced us to an approach that’s about giving Centres a chance, and working together to get the best from them.”

PLASA3The benefits

With regular EAL monitoring visits to support the scheme’s development, the NRC has rapidly grown in status among rigging employers and workers.  Over 150 learners have gained recognition of their knowledge, skills and experience as riggers or rigging supervisors by achieving the NRC Level 2 or Level 3 certificate.  Another 600 learners are currently registered or working through the assessment process.

Successfully completing either route rewards learners with an industry ID Skills Card which they can present to employers as a guarantee of competence.  They are also invited to join the national register of qualified riggers that PLASA publishes on its website, helping workers to show their credentials and helping employers to find skilled labour.

The NRC is now endorsed by a growing list of venues and companies across the live events and entertainment industry.  London’s Earls Court and Olympia – alongside production companies like PRG – are among those to have committed since September 2010 to only appoint contractors that have completed the NRC assessment or are registered to do so.  From January 2012, these companies and venues will insist that all rigging suppliers hold an NRC ID Skills Card.

Nicky explains: “The initial concept was very new to our industry, and it is a challenge for some who have worked for 30 years to have to take an assessment.  Doing so has changed opinions, and the fact that the NRC was developed by industry, for industry is a good counter-argument to any objections.  The strength of the scheme is the fact that the main industry employers sit round the table and feel like they own the qualification.  EAL’s support gives the NRC that extra level of integrity."  

PLASA6The future

The NRC’s successful introduction has opened new avenues for PLASA and EAL to raise standards through industry-specific qualifications.   With its global remit for developing skills, PLASA is now investigating a pilot of the original scheme with four Nordic countries, and has received expressions of interest from Singapore, Turkey, Portugal and the Caribbean to adapt the approach to suit their national requirements.

Domestically, PLASA and EAL are jointly developing two electrotechnical NVQs in Installing and Maintaining Audio and Audio Visual Systems, which will introduce supervisors in these areas to a tailored framework for demonstrating skills, competency, safe practices and professionalism.  The initiative will lift another barrier by empowering a further section of the workforce to qualify for a recognised safety passport card, increasing safety standards and reducing insurance costs in the process.

There is a common thread between the organisations, with both parties committed to investing profit back into the development of standards and qualifications to serve industry needs.  Ruth Rossington, PLASA’s European executive director and chief operating officer explains: “EAL is approachable, and guarantees the quality and regulatory compliance that supports PLASA’s role in developing qualifications.  There is an excellent rapport between our organisations: EAL is very flexible and willing to listen to our needs.”

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