Understanding the Road Transport Engineers system

I just read this very informative article from the UK’s SMMT (Society of the Motor Manufacturers and Traders) about the Institute of Road Transport Engineers (IRTE).

This month, the Institute of Road Transport Engineers (IRTE) has formally launch a new addition to its accreditation programme for commercial vehicle technicians.

The new tyre technician module marks the latest chapter in the growth of the organisation’s irtec scheme, a venture that is fast becoming the benchmark in the commercial vehicle industry.

Incredible as it might seem to the general public, there is no mandatory training or qualification required to be a mechanic, be that on commercial vehicles or cars, and that’s something that John Parry, a trustee and director of IRTE, wants to see changed.

“You could go out tomorrow, open a commercial vehicle workshop, strip the brakes down on a 44-ton tanker, put them back together again and put it out on the road, and there would be nothing legally wrong with that,” says the former engineering director, who has worked for DHL Exel Supply Chain and BRS over an extensive career.

It was around five years ago that Parry spearheaded a revival of the irtec scheme, with a renewed focus on industry approval. After consulting with stakeholders across the industry, a partnership was formed with the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) as the awarding body, and a steering and expert working group formed to determine the
content and strategy of the scheme, as well as continuously review and develop it.

“Irtec is really about what industry wants,” Parry says. “It’s independent, which is critical. It’s not what we think industry should get, it’s more about going out to industry and saying “is this what you want?”, and it’s been pretty well signed off as being where they want it to be.”

Today, irtec offers accreditation across several levels, from service maintenance technician to master technician. Accreditation lasts for five years, to ensure that standards are maintained.

One of the key challenges for Parry and his colleagues has been raising awareness of the scheme, and promoting the benefits. The aim has been to convince organisations to insist upon irtec-qualified mechanics to ensure quality of expertise.

Initially, he targeted vehicle manufacturers. “We talked to the OEMs and sold it to them, because we can’t impose it. Although we get quite a strong push from the traffic commissioner and from the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), it’s something that you have to decide that you want to do yourself.” John’s case was strong enough to convince them. “All CV manufacturers are now committed to introducing irtec at some level,” he says.

The next target was independent maintenance suppliers and large operators.

“We’re now with operators who are saying ‘unless you have licensed technicians, then you will not repair my vehicles’,” Parry says. “People like Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Carlsberg, Morrisons and more. Something like 70 percent of the vehicles on the road are repaired and maintained by independents or by owner-operators, and they’re the people that we’re trying to bring into irtec.

Sainsbury’s, for instance, uses subcontractors; they don’t have any of their own workshops, and they will say to their subcontractors “the minimum we want is people who are irtec licensed’.”

The DVSA has stood firmly behind the irtec scheme. “There are 500 inspectors for the DVSA who go around Authorised Test Facilities and those inspectors also have an irtec license,” Parry says. “The DVSA are in the process of having all of their inspectors licensed. That’s been going on for about 18 months, which is a huge coup for us.”

The wider industry response over the past five years has been overwhelmingly positive, although Parry says there has been some resistance from organisations that believe their in-house training is already comprehensive enough. His hope, however, is that over time, irtec becomes the industry standard for determining the quality of technicians.

Getting it to become a legal standard, however, is likely to prove difficult. Despite the support from the likes of the DVSA and Beverley Bell, the UK’s senior traffic commissioner (a fellow of the Society of Operations Engineer’s, the IRTE’s parent organisation), Parry believes that getting the law behind a minimum qualification level is a hard task.

“The difficulty is getting government to agree,” he says. “Certainly the Conservative government isn’t into legislation, it’s into voluntary industry standards. There wouldn’t be a big appetite, I don’t think, for making it a legal requirement at the moment.

“However, I think it should be a legal standard. It would take away a lot of the problems. You’ve got to have a CPC [certificate of professional competence] for a driver, but not for the guy that fixes his truck.

“If you got on an aeroplane and over the Tannoy hear: ‘this is our Airbus 320. The guys that repair it are really good. They don’t have any qualifications, but they’ve been doing it for years,’ you’d get off pretty quickly. But we’re happy to do that for vehicles that follow us down the motorway at 56mph, and hope that they have been repaired correctly.”

Parry’s fear is that it will take a major disaster involving a poorly maintained commercial vehicle to prompt legislative action. “I think we should make it more public that there isn’t a standard,” he says. “If you talk to most people and tell them that you don’t require any qualifications whatsoever to repair a truck then they will be aghast.”

There are now some 8,000 irtec accredited commercial vehicle technicians out of an estimated 35,000 or so in the UK. Parry is pleased with progress, but says the programme is still in its early days. “We’re still at the early part of the journey to where we need to be. It’s increased by 1500-1600 technicians each year, but I want to have people say ‘how do I get on this scheme’ rather than me saying ‘do you know about it?’.”