Irtec assessment tips

For technicians aiming for the top, here are some irtec assessment tips. By Richard Simpson

Readers won’t need telling that the industry is desperately short of skilled technicians. At least two factors are at play here: one is the education system channelling 50% of schoolchildren down the university pathway, and the other is that the high wages transport operators had to pay to get over the post-Covid driver shortage tempted many technicians to box up the spanners and take to the road.

The result is that, as industry surveys attest, in percentage terms we are now even shorter of technicians than we were of drivers. Advertised salaries for technicians average well clear of £40,000 a year (comfortably in excess of average secondary-school teachers’ earnings), and the market is skewed in favour of the employee.

All of which means making sure the right person is recruited is vital to the workshop manager.

Marque-specific qualifications abound in an arena where most skilled technicians were trained as apprentices by franchised dealers, but the four levels of qualifications offered by irtec are brand-agnostic and provide a benchmark of competence across the industry.

This matters because there is no legal requirement for a qualification before someone can undertake work on a commercial vehicle in the UK. Incidents like the Bath tipper crash of 2015, although mercifully rare, indicate how a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing when applied to truck maintenance.

Irtec provides an independent assessment of technician competence with licences being granted at four levels: service and maintenance technician, inspection technician, advanced technician and master technician; across three disciplines: truck, trailer, and PCV. Since 2021, there has also been a category covering large electric vehicles. Assessment is either by third-party assessors, or certified internal assessors. Once achieved, however, irtec licences only last five years, meaning that qualification is a constant process.


Richard Belton (left), operations director at S&B Automotive Academy, has been involved with developing the irtec qualification since its very early days, and has been a member of the steering group for over 15 years. He explains that candidates normally have at least three years of experience before starting on the irtec path, which means new entrants tend to be one or two years out of apprenticeship.

“But we see more older technicians as candidates than we do 20- or 21-year-olds,” he reports, which indicates increasing recognition of the importance of the qualification by experienced hands and their employers.

“Many of the older candidates have not undergone any type of assessment or examination for a very long time, so it can be quite daunting for them. We try to put them at ease before they start, and that often means taking 30 minutes or so to talk through what they are going to do. They are watched while they work, and also have to complete an online multi-choice test, which is based on the DVSA Guide to Roadworthiness. There are also a few written questions that require short answers, and they have access to the Guide to Roadworthiness when they are answering them, but this may change in the next iteration of the test.

“For the observed inspection, we try to keep a relaxed atmosphere: the idea is that they are doing an inspection as part of their working day. There is no ‘fixed order’ they must follow, but we must see a methodology that ensures they don’t miss anything. Sometimes people do panic and lose track.

“The best thing they can do is to have a set process to follow: linked to the paper inspection sheet, or, more often these days, an app.

“We want to see them record their findings accurately, and understand what they have recorded. We will sometimes ask questions for clarity. We aren’t looking for a set process, but we are looking for a logical one.

“We also advise people to make it obvious to us what they are doing: a bit like the slightly exaggerated ‘looks in the mirror’ you do in a driving test.

“The diversity of vehicles means that there’s no set time-limit. We just have to be realistic. You can inspect a tractor unit in about an hour, but a big touring coach is going to take far longer, with every individual seat and seatbelt being inspected.”


As a new apprentice mechanic with a haulage company, the then 16-year-old Scott McLintock’s introduction to the world of work was a hard one.

“I left school on Friday, then the following Monday I was at work. I had to go from being a boy to a man: in the space of an hour I was changing the brake shoes on a trailer, and I don’t think I’d ever been so cold,” he recalls.

Now 42, McLintock has moved on and up to being day-shift supervisor at Scania Glasgow, where a key part of his role is helping his colleagues to reach their full potential: not just with technical skills, but also as team members.

As such, not only has he been down the irtec pathway himself – “it is a must if you work for Scania, and also because it’s not company-specific it’s a qualification you can take anywhere” – he has also mentored many colleagues towards it.

“When we take technicians on, one of the first questions we ask is about their irtec qualifications. I’m working with two trainee technicians who have come to us from car workshops, and acquiring the irtec qualification is a key part of their conversion to truck technicians.

“They both really enjoy it,” he reports. “And it’s really satisfying to have that personal qualification.”

His advice to candidates embarking on their first assessment is simple: “Just like a driving test, there’s always an element of nerves: take a deep breath to help you focus, and then get stuck in. Once you are underway it’s fine. For instance, MOT preparation is an everyday task and I guarantee you will settle down in a couple of minutes. Once you are underway, it’s fine.”

He urges candidates to listen and learn.

“The ‘MOT book’, the HGV inspection manual, is a valuable resource. All the information you need is in there. The practical just takes care of itself: stick to the process, and you won’t miss anything. The theory element, which covers legislation and measurement, can be a bit more daunting as it can be alien to older candidates who have many years between them and the classroom. The younger generation tend to be more comfortable with the theory aspect.”

Electronics have gone from being a niche topic to an all-encompassing one. “When I started there were perhaps four electronic control units on a truck: now there’s more than you can count,” McLintock recalls. “This has changed the diagnosis process form being educated guesswork to one where the truck may well have given you a good idea of what’s wrong with it via telematics before it even arrives in the workshop. The younger technicians love this, but experience is still everything when it comes to diagnostics.”

He anticipates the introduction of electric vehicles as being “easily the biggest change we have seen, or will see, and we’ve also got two types of gas fuel to deal with.

“The first training issue with electrics is health and safety. You need certified high-voltage awareness to work safely on an EV, even if you aren’t working on the high-voltage side of it.”

He continues to maintain his own irtec qualifications. “My irtec card takes pride of place in my wallet. It’s what enables me to have all my bank cards,” he smiles.

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