Leader: Institute is moving with the times, albeit slowly

10 February 2012

Elaine Knutt | Editor, CM

As construction contributes to the fall in national GDP, teeters on the edge of a double-dip recession and looks set to shed another 45 000 jobs in 2012, the CIOB launches its 10-year Strategic Plan. Some 18 months in the planning, the document is the starting point in a long-term initiative to update its qualifications framework for the 21st century.

But when the industry is taking yet more blows, there’s a danger that even the most well-thought out policies end up looking like the right solution addressing the wrong problem.

In fact, the suggestion that the CIOB was over-focused on its internal policies rather than engaging with the challenges beyond its door seemed to lie behind some of the strongly-worded comments on our website following chief executive Chris Blythe’s exposition of the plan in last month’s CM. That and the understandable reaction from many quarters that any moves to revamp the MCIOB qualification represent the dilution of a much-valued standard — understandable when the document talks of “workplace recognition” and rewarding “potential” rather than 20 years’ experience. When the news from the wider economy is continually worrying, the solid career achievement of CIOB membership starts to look even more worth protecting.

Of course, the Strategic Plan is all about the CIOB’s interface with the industry: with the changing needs of employers, the trends towards BIM and offsite manufacture, and the likelihood that we will see fewer graduates emerge from off-puttingly expensive degree courses.

The need to re-engineer the CIOB qualifications framework is also linked to the cultural shifts underway since the onset of the credit crunch. Smaller, leaner companies are less reliant on shared processes and more reliant on capable individuals. With companies carrying fewer unproductive overheads, there is less likely to be an in-house specialist to answer your question — everyone has to be an expert in everything. 

But creating new qualifications that address where we are going without leaving the existing members feeling left behind will be difficult to pull off. Like the delivery of a major construction project, it needs leadership, a sense of purpose, and enthusiasm. In new president Alan Crane (see page 14), the CIOB has a useful asset: a natural communicator with a high industry profile, vastly experienced but not likely to be weighed down by history.

He comes to the post directly from chairing the CIOB’s Education, Qualifications, Standards and Practice Board, while his own entry into the CIOB 20 years ago helped open up a new route that hundreds of others have subsequently followed.

But with only an 18-month term in office — the same period it took to produce the document in the first place — Crane is constrained by timing. As Chris Blythe notes in his column this month (page 8), the world of construction management is changing incredibly fast. The employers the CIOB is trying to address might once have had five-year business plans but are now, partly due to the smaller, shorter contracts they’re taking on, looking just two or three years ahead. In this light, a 10-year strategic plan starts to look a bit ponderous.

The CIOB naturally wants to act with consensus and membership support. But if it really is the professional home of flexible, adaptable, multi-skilled professionals, then maybe it should take a leaf out of their book.

Elaine Knutt, editor


Nimbys stymie green power

G P Brown, Norwich

I wish Paris Moayedi et al (CM January, p8) good luck with their waste-to-energy plants proposal.

If the level of Nimby opposition to any plant he proposes is the same as that against a plant at King’s Lynn in East Anglia, he is likely to be spending a
hugely disproportionate amount from any capital raised just trying to get planning permissions.

No matter what you may think of wind power, the farms need to be connected to the national grid, yet examples in Norfolk seem to confirm that whatever the support for the “larger picture” of greener energy, the Nimbys will mass to oppose the necessary infrastructure when it is near them!

Gay is good, and everyone else is too

John Crockett, via CM website

I might be from the old school, but I don’t need to know if someone is gay or straight (online story, “Be glad to be a gay-friendly employer”). If they do their job, that’s okay by me. If they want to come to the same parties and social gatherings as me that’s okay as well. If they want to attend gatherings with similar like-minded people as themselves that’s also okay.

Why have a Top Companies list for LGBT’s (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual)? Is there one for straight people, black, white, Asian or disabled?

Companies should ensure that all their employees have good working arrangements and are allowed to work to their full potential no matter what their sexual orientation or ethnic background.

It makes good sense to employ the best people whoever they may be. Isn’t that the idea of equality and diversity?

Libya leaves bitter aftertaste

D J Lunn, via CM website

It is not only British firms that are owed money (online story, “UK firms eye up Tripoli”) but British workers have also not been paid and have lost all of their possessions stolen by supposed rebels. The British government is not doing enough to redress this situation on our behalf.

Inconsistency of CSCS means many are missing the point

Jeffrey Fildes

In response to chairman of the CSCS, Trevor Walker resigning, to be replaced by Michael Clapham (online story, 9 December), I am fully in favour of ensuring that tradesmen going on any site are aware of any safety risks and requirements on the site.

The CSCS system does give a certain amount of coverage by ensuring that to get the card or renew it you have to update yourself on health and safety to pass the test.

The problem I have is the qualification of your trade to get the correct card — I have a diploma in site management and maintenance management but have only been allowed a red card as a trainee even though I have passed the safety test for management. It will cost me money to get the correct card from the CSCS programme when it has already cost me a lot of money to pass my exams for MCIOB.

The fact that the programme is cost related is deterring tradesmen from the main point, which is health and safety.

Vox pop

What do you think of the CIOB's proposal to introduce new qualifications set out in the Strategic Plan?

Bernard Keogh, Managing director, Arque Construction

I’d be concerned if the MCIOB qualification was revamped to take into account NVQ-type on-the-job training and assessment, which hasn’t got a brilliant reputation and is not so stringent. I was extremely proud when I received my MCIOB, mainly because the qualification was so difficult to attain, it’s very challenging and covers a very broad syllabus,
which is why is gets such respect within the industry.

There is a place for acknowledging site-based qualifications, but it’s really important that we retain the same high standards. The problem is one of consistency — it’s difficult to maintain a set standard for qualifications based in the workplace because different employers interpret training and assessment in different ways, which could affect the overall quality of the qualification. But perhaps that’s the price we have to pay for acknowledging a broader membership and the specific experience people have.

Marcus Leverton FCIOB, Director, Leverton UK

I wholeheartedly welcome the plan to recognise practical experience as part of the qualification process. Academic criteria shouldn’t be the only measure of a person’s ability. It’s a problem I faced early in my career: I left school at 16 and went into my family’s construction business, but when I decided I wanted to get into management it was near impossible to get on a degree course without the relevant A-levels. Thankfully, I was given a lifeline at the age of 21 by Sheffield Hallam University, which accepted me as a mature student based on my working experience.

By showing that practical vocational abilities are significant and should be rewarded you encourage a much better quality of professional. We need to get the right mix to create managers with strong planning and negotiation skills, as well as practical site-based skills. The industry’s culture has shifted and for the CIOB, it’s a case of move with the times or risk being left behind.

Vance Babbage, Director, B&M Babbage

Any professional institution should be constantly examining how it is run internally to reflect what the membership want, but also how it is viewed externally. There’s definitely a case for raising our public image — if you asked 10 people in the street “who are the RIBA?”, the majority would at least know it’s architecture-related, but if you asked them if they’d heard of the CIOB they wouldn’t have a clue.

Perhaps the CIOB’s greatest asset is that it’s a broad church made up of various disciplines, but paradoxically that is also a weakness because it makes it difficult to project a specific image like design or engineering. I think we should change the umbrella term chartered builder, which doesn’t reflect well on design or project managers, for example, many of whom would not consider themselves a builder in the traditional sense.

Colin Bell FCIOB, President, Association of Building Engineers

It’s a great idea to modernise and improve the CIOB qualifications process. There’s a culture among older professionals to think: “Getting an MCIOB was hard has hell for us, so why shouldn’t it be the same for new entrants?” But it’s possible to move with the times and maintain the same standards and competency requirements.

The CIOB has improved greatly under Chris Blythe so any changes must not damage its reputation — we don’t want to give the impression that standards are being diluted to increase numbers.

Dawn Parias MCIOB, Director, Construction Management Training

I teach the CIOB level 4 diploma and certificate in Site Management, and feel that some of the areas mentioned as not being fully addressed by the current courses — such as supply chain expertise and offsite construction — do in fact play a large part in the existing modules. I feel the weak link is getting the word out there to contractors and companies.

We already have good qualifications. We need to constantly upgrade, but we also need to tell the people how good they are. With universities increasing their tuition fees we have the ideal solution for those that want to climb the construction management ladder, as the CIOB Level 3 and 4 diplomas and the Experienced Practitioner Assessment are part-time.

Contact us

Do you have an opinion on any of this month’s articles? Email: construction-manager@atompublishing.co.uk

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