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Looking at the bigger picture – how building control can bridge the skills gap

todayNovember 8, 2021


With nearly 30 years’ experience in the Building Control Sector, Paul Armstrong left his role as an Approved Inspector (AI) at Assent Building Control to return to university, in order to pursue post graduate studies in education. On completion, the opportunity arose to develop the Assent Training Academy, a position that allows him to draw on his passion for education and Building Control, sharing knowledge and helping to train the next generation of AI’s at Assent. Here, Paul speaks about the current skills crisis, the opportunities that he sees within the industry and what he thinks it will take to bridge the skills gap. 

While there are many contributions to the ongoing skills shortage in building control, there is one overriding factor that stands out for me, and that’s time. This is a sector where the work doesn’t run out. It keeps us busy, which is great, but ultimately it becomes a vicious cycle of having so much work on that there is limited time to train and develop skills of new and existing colleagues. The process of delivering quality training is extremely time consuming and the long-term payoff is all too easily overlooked when you’re not considering the bigger picture. But there’s no getting away from the fact that we need fresh blood and investing time into people is the only way we can achieve this.

Roadblocks and industry misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions about building control and the wider built environment. It is often seen as an outdated industry that’s behind the curve with digital transformation and trapped in outdated processes and procedures. None of which is true. But one of the main misconceptions that’s stopping people from seeing the real value of a job in building control is a misunderstanding of our role in the design and construction process. People make the mistake of viewing us as separate from the design team and have this idea that we’re just there to throw a proverbial spanner in the works and make everyone’s life difficult. This is simply not the case. Building control done properly sees us play a pivotal role alongside the design team, helping to save time and resources. And while we may not get involved in the design process, we can be an asset in terms of problem solving. More often than not if there’s a problem, we’ve seen it before on another build. The idea that we’re there to create conflict is completely misleading when in fact, there is so much opportunity to build strong relationships with design teams and wider project teams.

We’re extroverted, big thinkers

What often surprises people is that the main skill anyone needs to become a successful AI is communication. While we’re often mistaken for analytical introverts, the reality is that we spend the majority of our time speaking to a range of different people. From builders and homeowners to architects and CEOs of multinational companies. It’s crucial to have the communication skills that allow you to get your perspective across in a way that the other person values and understands. Knowing how to have these conversations can mean the difference between a successful project and a conflict situation.

It’s also important for anyone going into building control to be able to see the bigger picture. Whether you’re in a meeting or on site, taking a holistic view of how the information you’re presented with at the time will impact the project as a whole will be critical to your success. We need big thinkers, as opposed to people who get caught up in the particulars.

Academic or practical – take your pick

The great thing about the training process to becoming an AI is that there are two different routes. This means that people with different ways of learning can both achieve the same qualification. All AIs are trained either through CABE or RICS, and the qualification for each can be achieved either through an experience or academic based route. The academic route comprises a degree qualification, as well as two years’ experience. Trainees must also a produce a portfolio of their work and sit a panel assessed interview. The experience-led route tends to be more suited to people that have established their careers in construction, as it requires between 5-10 years’ experience, plus the portfolio of work and panel assessed interview.

The skills needed for becoming an AI don’t have to come from your standard academic career, in fact we see many people who have established careers in construction bringing valuable skills and knowledge to the industry. The diversity this adds to the sector is invaluable, as it allows us to tap into a much wider talent pool.

A unified investment

The industry needs to take a unified approach to investing in skills and people. We spend so much time looking at the bigger picture with our work, we need to start doing the same in our own sector to bridge the skills gap. Appreciating the long-term value of investing in training and mentoring is the only way we will be able to move away from this looming crisis. This isn’t just about new starters either – it’s also about training existing employees. The idea that training stops upon qualification isn’t serving anyone. Delivering consistent training throughout the career path allows people to build expertise in certain areas, helps professional development, and stops people from becoming stagnant in their roles and losing interest.

It all comes back to investment of time. I know that most experienced AI’s want to share their knowledge, but they need to recognise that investing the time to do so will ultimately benefit everyone. They might feel they are too busy today, but if they don’t invest in their trainees now then how busy will they be tomorrow, next month or next year? Our older, more experienced, AI’s will eventually retire, and we’ll be left with fewer and fewer skills. This is something that needs to be rectified imminently to avoid a much bigger crisis in the long term.

Looking to the future

While the situation may seem bleak, we don’t need to be pessimistic about the future. Despite what it may seem, I’m actually extremely optimistic about where we are heading. Working in building control provides the opportunity to help make our world a better, safer place to live. It provides a front-line role in ensuring buildings are sustainable and on track to reaching net zero targets.

Couple this with the exciting new technologies that are being introduced and built on across the industry, we are developing more future focused roles to appeal to the younger generations. We’re already seeing industry leaders committing heavily to providing focused, quality training which also includes communications skills training.

And with a unified effort, I believe we can share our passion and enthusiasm to attract the skills needed to help us bridge the gap.

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