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Shortage of building control officers set to cause disruption to UK construction sector

In this feature, Iain Thomson, CEO, Assent Building Control looks at look at the challenge the industry faces to get more young people interested in the building control industry whilst it is still suffering from the fall out post Grenfell. There is also a secondary challenge, and in many ways a more immediate need, to ensure that the roles that are currently open in the sector are filled with competent surveyors who are prepared to act in a truly advisory capacity, and change the face of the sector away from a ‘clipboard tick box’ image to one that is much more professional.

Iain Thomson looks at look at the challenge the industry faces to get more young people interested in the building control industry

Iain Thomson

As I write this article, the UK is currently reeling from a situation that has arisen due to the lack of qualified HGV drivers. This long-predicted shortfall has seen a significant knock-on effect for the general consumer who have found themselves sitting in long queues at petrol stations to ensure they can carry on their day to day lives. The worrying trend for the supply chain is that this issue with fuel could very quickly be replicated in our supermarkets – it’s not that there is no supply it is simply that there is nobody available to get the supply from A to B.

This is a picture that could also easily be replicated across other industries, and not without warning. In the construction sector we have been told for many years of the skills shortages that exist around the trades that we all take for granted but the problem is deeper than that. Approved Inspectors, the army of men and women who have the ability to sign off a building or a renovation at the point of completion, are dwindling in numbers with no sign of a significant influx of new talent to the sector. This might seem like a small annoyance to the multi-billion pound construction sector but I would encourage you to stop for a second and consider this.

Any building that is being constructed in the UK requires the involvement of building control either through the local authority or the approved inspector network. These individuals are able to act in an advisory capacity to developers and homeowners when it comes to constructing a project that is compliant to all of the current regulations. Without the involvement of this small group of people, buildings will remain empty, building owners will be out of pocket and homeowners will find themselves facing costly insurance premiums to protect the work at point of sale.

The challenge for the sector is that building control is not a career of choice for most, it is a job that they find themselves in, happen across or fall into. To change this, the construction sector needs to take some responsibility for positioning the role of the approval inspector or building control officer as one that has a vital part to play in the future of the built environment in the UK. Without these people and their knowledge of the requirements of the building regulations, construction projects will face uncertain futures or even end up being occupied without the correct compliance in place – a risk that nobody should be prepared to take.

So, what can the industry do? We need to take responsibility for changing the perception of the job that we do, shifting the focus away from ticking boxes on a form to delivering real consultative value to the clients we are working with. This consultative approach can take many different guises including helping architects to plan from the drawings to completion, consulting with a homeowner and their builder to ensure that an extension is built to the best possible standards or adding value to a developer to enable them to create more thermally efficient homes to command greater resale values. But alongside changing the perception from within comes a responsibility of the wider construction sector to see the importance of the approved inspector, not see them as a hurdle that needs to be overcome.

Without the inspection of buildings by competent, qualified personnel, the risk of situations such as Grenfell happening again increases. A building control officer is there to ensure that a building meets the required regulations, to help challenge a developer to build better, to work alongside architects to encourage them to design more efficiently, to create new methods of construction with off-site manufacturers and to advise the building owners to help them understand that a race to the bottom on price could put the building occupants at greater risk. A building control officer or approved inspector is there to protect the final users of the building but also to protect the reputations of all of the people involved in project. Their involvement in the whole construction process means that the quality of the final structure will improve.

The building control sector is only small – a team of around 3000 competent individuals signing off the work of the entire construction sector. This number is decreasing as surveyors retire or choose to switch career. The challenge is that very few young people, who are currently studying for various qualifications in associated areas, would consider building control as a career choice. But it’s a fantastic career for those who want to develop their skills, continue their professional development, and work with people in an industry that is in a huge phase of growth. At Assent we are working on establishing a training academy which will help to nurture talent and grow our team from apprentices all the way through to directors. It’s vital to the future of approved inspectors that we take our commitment to skills seriously. By encouraging the rest of the industry to truly value the work that we do and seek to work with the best and most proactive inspectors, we believe we can build a brighter future for the industry and help the next generation of surveyors to see the amazing opportunities that can exist within the world of building regulations.

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