The CIOB has plans to develop an international qualification. Stephen Cousins asked three members from different parts of the world how that would be received abroad.
In January the CIOB announced its Strategic Plan, a blueprint for its evolution over the next 10 years. It outlines a radical shake-up designed to align the CIOB more closely with employers and individuals’ needs and open up new routes to membership worldwide. Given that 20% of the Institute’s 46,000 members are based outside the UK — with representation in more than 100 different countries — and the way our globalised economy is encouraging both UK and non-UK professionals to head overseas, a major focus will be on supporting members already working abroad and attracting new foreign talent.
So a key reform under the Strategic Plan will be the development of an international qualification to convey to construction clients and employers that the holder is capable of working outside their narrow national context. “The word chartered means something different in different parts of the globe,” CIOB President Alan Crane CBE told CM earlier this year. “We want to introduce something that is instantly recognised around the world.”
Details of the qualification are still under discussion, but it is likely that chartered members would sit an extra module to attain the title MCIOB International, or similar. MCIOB status is already seen by applicants in many countries as a link between their experience and qualifications and the international industry, so it’s hoped that a more internationally portable qualification could provide more career opportunities.
To find out more about how the existing qualification is viewed and the challenge of developing a new overseas standard, we spoke to three non-UK nationals who are CIOB members. Working in very different environments, each is clear about the benefits of membership, but all three also highlight the unique features of the construction industry where they are working and the difficulty of formulating a single standard to span them all.
In Denmark, for example, a client always employs a dedicated site manager to work alongside the contractor’s site manager and the role of QS doesn’t exist, India suffers from a lack of standardised conditions of contract and inadequate information on material prices, while Korea is a stranger to the concept of transparency.
In Singapore, the contractor/client relationship is also very different, explains Simon Silbernagl, senior consultant at Hill International, who provides consultancy services to clients on construction and infrastructure projects: “Singapore has much larger infrastructure projects than the UK, especially roads and bridges, which places greater emphasis on programme management. In the UK it’s seen as the contractors’ responsibility to manage day-to-day activities, but here employers aren’t willing to take a back seat because so much money turns on completion and they take a very active role in managing the finer aspects of a project,” he says.
The CIOB has highlighted China as a key area of focus for the future, but the problem here is the language barrier. Although the Institute has a high profile among the English-speaking section of the construction industry, a large percentage of professionals fail to benefit from the English-speaking seminars and events organised by the CIOB, says Abdo Kardous ICIOB, who heads up project management for Hill International in China.
“The MCIOB qualification is seen as an opportunity to grow within a company as well as abroad, but the CIOB needs to bridge the gap with non-English speakers and show a greater commitment to the Chinese market, by opening branches outside Shanghai and Beijing, for example, and even publishing a Chinese language magazine.”
The success of an international qualification will also hinge on raising awareness of the CIOB “brand” abroad and differentiating its qualification from other certification or qualification schemes offered by competing organisations, such as the Construction Management Association of America and the Project Management Institute.
“There is still a lack of definition of what a chartered builder is and what the qualification means, which tends to reduce its value,” says Neil Coker MCIOB, with a mining role in Sierra Leone, who has worked extensively in India, Saudi Arabia, and Africa. “This is partly because MCIOB appears to be a catch-all qualification that encompasses several disciplines, unlike RIBA for example, which is specific to design. When people come to understand what MCIOB is and the high standards it requires to achieve they have a great deal of respect for it,” he concludes.
From a UK perspective, we tend to assume that construction management elsewhere is a variation — to a greater or lesser extent — on familiar UK themes.
As our profiles show, that is not the case: cultural norms define projects from the ground up. But an international brand linking the common factors that do exist — professionalism, innovation, integrated working, technology, sustainability — would clearly add value to individuals’ careers, to the CIOB as an international brand, and to the UK’s traditional status as an exporter of first-rate construction methodologies.
Campus Aarhus N, part of VIA University College in Denmark, opened last year. The €45m project was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen
Stefan Davies MCIOB
Project Manager, Copenhagen, Denmark
A Danish national and client-side project manager, Davies, 37, studied in Denmark but began his construction career in the UK at a small contractor. After a four-year spell at Mott MacDonald in 2008 he moved to the UAE where he helped deliver several prestigious museums working for the Tourism Development & Investment Company, including Foster + Partners’ Zayed National Museum and Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Davies returned to Copenhagen in 2010, and now works as an assistant project manager on four university schemes for the Building and Property Agency, part of the Danish Ministry of Climate, Energy and Building.
Davies was quick to note similarities with the UK construction industry: “There’s the same drive to deliver more for less, which is making it harder to deliver on green targets,” he says.
The role of project manager also carries a similar job description in Denmark, he says, although it is not a recognised profession in its own right. “If you tell someone you’re a project manager here, they assume you work for an architect, a contractor, or an engineer, which can be frustrating, and project management services cannot be bought in from a consultant here.”
Denmark generally benefits from a collaborative client/contractor relationship and doesn’t suffer from the UK problem of contractors submitting low tenders to win work, then strategically aiming to win back profits through claims, he says. But it could learn a thing or two from the UK’s approach to reporting on project progress: “A greater focus on reporting mechanisms makes it much easier to get a fast picture of the status of a scheme and is a great benefit to clients, or other project parties not involved in the day-to-day running of a project. In Denmark, reporting only seems to be done verbally.”
Such national differences could make it difficult for the CIOB to develop a universally applicable international qualification, he adds: “In Denmark the role of QS doesn’t exist, and the client employs a dedicated site manager to work alongside the contractor’s site manager.
“The industry is also configured very differently here, so when you gain chartership with the CIOB and prove that you know who to consult about what on a project, the answers to those questions will be very different in Denmark to the UK.”
But Davies says his MCIOB is a “mark of quality, which immediately opened doors for me when I first sought work in the Middle East”.
Architect BDP has designed a new campus for the Indian Institute of Technology at Mandi in the western Himalayan region of India
Biju AK MCIOB
Executive Director, Davis Langdon & Seah, Bengaluru, India
An Indian national responsible for service delivery and client care on a range of projects including offices, residential, warehouses, hotels, and a retail mall, Biju, 39, began his career as a civil engineering graduate with a master’s degree in construction engineering and management, then travelled to Reading in the UK to study quantity surveying. He has been in his current role at Davis Langdon & Seah for almost eight years.
Biju describes the CIOB as an “elite professional body promoting the highest standards and construction excellence across the world” and says that chartered membership has made a huge difference when he meets overseas clients. “Having my MCIOB
title on my business card has helped a lot in developing business contacts and the Institute has helped enhance my professional competence in an international construction environment,” he says.
India is experiencing huge growth and Biju says property prices in its “tier one” cities are a big talking point, as is the concept of sustainability, which has become a niche area in consulting as overseas clients look for energy efficient buildings.
Large-scale investment in India from abroad is also putting pressure on the local construction industry to mature and become more organised, he says: “A professional from overseas will find it difficult working with India’s procurement systems and work processes. We have no institution to provide standardised conditions of contract, and no one is able to provide updated information on materials and costs. Taxation in India is also different from other countries and can cause confusion to newcomers.”
The disorganised nature of the industry highlights the need to train staff to meet “core values and best industry practice”, he adds. “This is exactly the importance of the CIOB’s presence in India. Most large projects here are funded by financial institutions like the World Bank, Asian development banks or by foreign direct investment, it’s a multi-lingual, multi-cultured industry, so development of an international CIOB qualification should aim to unify these elements and help them adhere to the same professional standards.”
An important step on this path is to raise awareness of the Institute, which Biju says is still little known among local practitioners: “The CIOB could set up an India chapter to deliver seminars, workshops and career development programmes, join hands with local institutes to develop standards, and gain influence with clients and industry,” he suggests.
Hyun Woo Lee (Sean Lee) ICIOB
Senior Project Manager, Aecom, Abu Dhabi
A 38-year-old South Korean, Lee’s career has spanned three continents. He studied architecture at Seoul National University, and in 1996 became a site engineer at contractor Hyundai Engineering & Construction. Shortly afterwards he took on the role of a QS preparing bids for overseas projects in South-east Asia and the Middle East.
His early experiences in South Korea were of an industry dominated by large local contractors such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung. “It’s a very established sector which is very hard for foreign contractors to break into,” he says. “It’s hugely competitive and has some bad habits, such as the very untransparent contracting system.”
In 2002 he moved to the US to become a project manager at Aecom where he worked for six years, but a desire to take on larger, more exciting projects inspired a transfer to Abu Dhabi, where he now works as senior project manager. Lee’s recent projects include the Saadiyat Island Cultural District Program, the region’s biggest arts hub.
Lee applied for ICIOB status in 2009 to boost his career prospects working in the UAE: “It helped me overcome misconceptions that being from Korea I might be less competent or familiar with global construction. The CIOB is recognised across the UAE and in South-east Asia,” he says.
Lee describes Abu Dhabi’s construction industry as “cross-cultural” and driven by a diverse array of foreign investors and practitioners. “On the plus side this means we can think outside the box on a project and re-examine the basic concepts of what a contract is and how to manage costs etc. There are less assumptions on how you should work. Long established standards and methods of doing business in the UK, for example, would not necessarily work here,” he says.
On the negative side, the lack of established procedures can create tensions: “There’s no established litigation procedure here, which means conflicts are often resolved based on personalities in an informal manner,” he says.
To improve the CIOB’s impact in the Middle East, Lee recommends that the Institute opens itself up to the entire industry and drops the emphasis on membership as denoted by the “M” in MCIOB. “To people who don’t know it, MCIOB sounds like a niche qualification, unlike the Project Management Institute’s internationally-recognised Project Management Professional certification, for example. I’d also like to see a dedicated CIOB online forum,” he says. “Networking sites like LinkedIn are too broad and there are too many groups to choose between.”