A day in the life of... an employer’s agent

2 January 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

The latest in our series on QM roles looks at the employer’s agent. Alec Thomson from Pellings tells Neil Gerrard about the day-to-day challenges in his job and explains that, post-Grenfell, employer’s agents are more mindful of fire protection than ever before.

What’s involved in a typical day for an employer’s agent?

There are progress meetings on my clients’ sites – inspecting the works and understanding the projects’ risks. Then back to the office to delve into the plethora of deliverables across other sites: reviewing valuations for stage payments to the contractor, studying drawings, specifications and proposals, analysing new schemes, undertaking due diligence, and much more.

How early in a project do you get involved?

It varies greatly and depends on the client. If the project is procured via a framework the contractors will have been pre-qualified. If not, we will handle competitive tendering on behalf of our client from the outset looking at the contractor risk profile, undertaking due diligence on the site and reviewing the financial appraisal.

“Post-Grenfell, we are more mindful of fire protection and fire stopping. Our clients are wary of inheriting buildings that don’t meet the highest standards...”

Alec Thomson, Pellings

What risk is involved when considering items submitted by the contractor?

The agreements I administer are mainly design and build contracts. As a result, except for elements beyond the contractor’s control, such as weather and utilities, the risk to our clients has been minimised as far as is practical. I use regular progress meetings with the contractors to probe them on construction risks and what they are doing to mitigate these.

Have you had to change how you monitor inspections post-Grenfell?

Typically, detailed inspections are undertaken by either the client’s clerk of works or our own. Post-Grenfell, however, we are more mindful of fire protection and fire stopping. There is more discussion pre contract; our clients are wary of inheriting buildings that don’t meet the highest standards and are interrogating the design in great detail before they commit.

In most cases, they bring in specialist fire consultants to review the level of protection before they sign – future-proofing the buildings for the inevitable hike in building regulations. 

How do you balance the client’s needs with the contractor’s capabilities?

Good communication, patience and fortitude is key to a successful outcome. I often see myself as the interpreter converting the client’s expectations into the contractor’s understanding. Overall, our client base is fair and reasonable when contractors’ expectations are clearly outlined to them.

When you identify defects, what do you consider when communicating these to the contractor?

Outside of clarity about the issue and why the item doesn’t comply, you sometimes need to consider the impact on the site manager being told about the defect. Some take it very personally that you’ve found something wrong (a pride issue), or that they are being scrutinised from above, that it reflects poorly on them.

If you’re about to hand over a building to the client and you find a bunch of small items during de-snagging, I like to give the site manager the opportunity of clearing them first before entering them in a defects sheet that their boss will inevitably see. Working with the site team, and not against them, is best.

What is the most challenging aspect of the job?

Juggling multiple clients and a multitude of sites at differing stages of development. One minute, you’ve got a client on the telephone deeply unhappy with the quality of the brickwork on a small scheme, while the next minute you could be dealing with a £200m project.

And the most rewarding?

When a disabled tenant arrives to see their brand-new wheelchair-adapted unit for the first time and cries because of the difference.

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