CIOB CEO Caroline Gumble: 'Standing on the shoulders of giants'

2 September 2019 | By Will Mann

Caroline Gumble became the CIOB’s new CEO last month. She tells Will Mann why the institute is on such firm foundations – and how she plans to build on them. Photos by Morley von Sternberg.

It may only be her fourth day in the office, but when CM meets new CIOB CEO Caroline Gumble, she has quickly become aware of the organisation’s heritage, values and sense of purpose.

“The past presidents, the trustees, officers and staff have laid down amazing foundations here,” she says. “All the work on the chartered and fellowship programmes, on policy areas such as quality, ethics and modern slavery – everyone involved deserves tremendous credit and thanks.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. My job now is to build on their work.”

Gumble started in her new role in August, after five years as chief operating officer of manufacturing employers’ organisation Make UK. Top of her priorities at the CIOB is engaging with members, through the hubs and Novus, which she describes as the “lifeblood” of the institute.

Caroline Gumble CV

  • 2014-2019: Chief operating officer, Make UK
  • 2003-2014: Executive director, Engineering Employers’ Federation (previous name of Make UK)
  • 1997-2003: International HR director, Ransomes
  • 1990-1997: HR manager, Lucas Diesel Systems

“One thing to stress is how impressed I am with the rigour of the membership process; to become chartered or a fellow is a very challenging process – particularly compared to other institutes where you just fill in a form and write a cheque,” she says.

“The effort members put in to become chartered, on top of doing their day jobs, shows real commitment – and I want us to repay that with an institute they can be proud of and that is relevant to them.

“I also want members to feel the institute is open and welcoming, supporting them in their work, and by that I also mean making use of our facilities and resources – members are welcome to book our London office on Kingsway if they need meeting space in the capital, for instance.

“The CIOB is not just about what happens at our head office, it’s about what happens in our member communities. We will use many methodologies to engage with them, including social media, as well as meeting face to face. And it won’t just be me engaging, because the organisation is about more than one person.”

Professional but accessible

In a busy first week for Gumble, she has been active on Twitter and posted two blogs, one in praise of the CIOB Benevolent Fund and another encouraging members to get involved.

“We should be where our members are; people like the face-to-face aspect of CIOB communities, but younger members in Novus will be used to engaging through social media,” she says. “Everything is immediate these days and people are time poor, so it makes sense for us to be out there on social media. We must be professional but also accessible.”

Gumble is keen to see “closer alignment of the Novus community to bring them into the CIOB fold”.

“I want members to feel the institute is open and welcoming, supporting them in their work, and by that I also mean making use of our facilities and resources.”

Caroline Gumble, CIOB

“They are the future, and we must tap into that emerging talent,” she says. “Although a separate identity and brand, Novus has many intelligent and forward-thinking people who we need to engage with, so they stay with us and help shape the CIOB.”

Global and local interest

She also wants to “re-energise the hubs” and encourage them to have “their own local personality”.

“We should have consistency in processes across all the hubs, but it is important they have their regional identities and engage with themes that are meaningful and topical to them: for example, the priorities of elected mayors and the Northern Powerhouse – which CIOB is now an official partner of,” she explains.

“Some issues will have global interest, such as quality, which has become an issue in Australia and Malaysia.”

Quality has been one of the key CIOB policy areas in the last three-and-a-half years – since the Oxgangs School collapse in Edinburgh and the setting up of the institute’s Construction Quality Commission – and that will remain the case, Gumble says.

“Quality is central to the sector’s future, because it feeds into everything else,” she reasons. “It is not just about a specific failing on a particular building – the quality ethos also relates to issues such as health and safety, mental health, fair payment, ethics. And if we want to attract more young people into the industry, we must show that we can deliver a quality product, within a quality environment.

“Quality should be at the core of what the institute focuses on.”

The CIOB, which last month responded to the government consultation on a new building and fire safety regulatory system, will submit its response on the competency review shortly.

Meanwhile the institute’s quality commission has published a new code of quality management, the CIOB Academy has launched a course on construction quality management and a massive open online course (MOOC) on quality is set to go live later this year.

“The government is asking challenging questions of the industry, and it is up to us to make sure our quality commission’s work provides the answers,” Gumble says. “This is at the heart of the CIOB’s corporate plan.

“But we must also collaborate with all relevant stakeholders on these really important issues – there is no choice in that. Other organisations have important roles to play in their own areas and I’m looking forward to meeting their CEOs.”

Celebrating “great work’’

Besides quality, Gumble says other policy areas such as mental health – an issue that the president Charles Egbu is leading on – modern slavery and ethics will remain a focus for the CIOB, though she does not want to be “too scattergun”.

She also feels that the institute and its members should not “talk down” the industry so much, as “we actually have so much to be proud of”.

“We have rightly called out some bad practices, but there is so much great work being delivered, as we will see at the Construction Manager of the Year Awards this month, and we should celebrate that,” she says.

“We have rightly called out some bad practices, but there is so much great work being delivered, as we will see at the Construction Manager of the Year Awards this month, and we should celebrate that.”

Caroline Gumble, CIOB

“And not only the construction managers, there are other heroes in the industry, and we should recognise their achievements too. So Charles [Egbu], during his presidency, will be looking at how we could expand the awards.

“Because part of what I’d hope to achieve, is put some real pride into the sector.”

Gumble adds that construction is moving through an exciting, transformational period of digital innovation, which has the power to change perceptions of the industry.

“Construction skills requirements in the future will be different and will attract different people,” she says. “And the CIOB has put itself at the heart of this through the work of our digital technologies and asset management special interest group.”

Another hot topic of innovation in construction is offsite manufacturing, a part of the industry more familiar to Gumble because of her time at Make UK.

“Some issues in manufacturing and engineering are the same as in construction: skills shortages, a lack of diversity, the health and safety culture – but what they’re probably better at is productivity,” she explains. “And that has been enabled through focusing on quality.

“So in construction, offsite manufacturing can improve productivity; it can help address housing shortages, deliver fast-track projects and challenge current ways of working. It will also create the environment for automation and robotics because of the repeatability involved in the factory processes – which doesn’t happen when every construction project is built differently from the last one.” 

Members’ generosity

Gumble is keen to highlight “the generosity of CIOB members with their time – since I started it has been tremendous,” she says. “The chairs of the hubs, the trustees, all the members I have met – it has been overwhelming how warm the welcome has been and how keen they are to support their institute.

“And I want to work with them too – through working together, we can achieve more, and build on the strong foundations already at the CIOB.”

Gumble on…

... Quality

“It’s sad that it took Grenfell to bring the quality issue to the attention of the wider industry and public – while CIOB was already focused on the issue with its quality commission. Sadly, it was too late for too many.”

... The skills shortage

“We will attract more people to the industry if we are better at demonstrating our collective expertise, if sites are safer, if staff are treated well, if we provide more support for those living with mental illness.”

... Diversity

“Diversity is an issue for construction – but we shouldn’t just try to make the industry better for women and minority groups, it should be better for everyone.”

... Training and development

“I see the CIOB Academy, our CPDs, all our education offerings as a vital part of what the institute does and a big opportunity for us. I would also like to engender a learning culture within CIOB.”

... Her leadership style

“I will be straightforward to deal with; what you see is what you get. But I’m open and collaborative, always keen to learn, and a sense of humour is a must – it will get you through the difficult days.”

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