A bid has been submitted for the next stage of EU funding to develop the European Crane Operator Licence (ECOL).

The European Association of Abnormal Road Transport and Mobile Cranes, ESTA, said that a European licence scheme is needed more than ever to help the industry raise standards while dealing with growing skills shortages and an ageing workforce. That is the view of Ton Klijn, ESTA secretary and a driving force behind ECOL.

Klijn was speaking as ESTA submitted the project’s latest progress report to officials in Brussels. If the report is accepted, it will trigger the next wave of support funding from the European Commission’s Erasmus+ project.

Supporters of ECOL said they have made huge progress and were optimistic that the project will receive continued financial backing. Ton Klijn said, “The growing sophistication of the equipment and rapid technological change needs to be reflected in training schemes across Europe, some of which are based on structures that in some cases were set up many years ago.

“On top of that, there is the issue of an ageing workforce, which means the existing skills shortages are going to get worse.”

Under the proposed scheme an ECOL qualification will allow an employer to ensure that any crane operator they take on, wherever they are from in the European Union, will have an accepted level of competence. “This can only help the industry meet demand and raise standards of safety,” Klijn said.

The European licence will supplement, rather than supersede, existing national qualifications and is likely to be set at a higher qualification level than the existing in many member states. That should counter a fear among detractors that ECOL could become a “lowest common denominator” qualification.

ESTA will draw on the experience of similar initiatives in the USA and Australia, organised by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) and the Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA).

To underline the advances made to date, ESTA’s progress report said that the table of learning outcomes for the crane operator is 90 % complete.

The workgroup is also working on a “generic training design” needed to allow training institutes to develop a training programme that matches the requirements of the ECOL licence. This generic training design is now 80 % completed.

Next steps include setting up the ECOL Foundation to oversee the future running of the whole project. ESTA plans to have the ECOL Foundation in place in the first half of 2017. This foundation will supervise and monitor the system of education, examination and maintenance. It will set the criteria for becoming an ECOL-educator and for becoming an ECOL examination institution in this field.

Klijn, who is also managing director at Wagenborg Nedlift in the Netherlands, added, “It is clear that using ECOL as a way of training everyone to the same benchmark will raise standards, improve site safety and boost employment opportunities for qualified operators.”

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