1 Executive Summary
Building Standards in Scotland
In Scotland, all 32 local authorities (LAs) are appointed by Scottish Ministers as verifiers of the Building standards system for their own geographical areas. The role of the verifier is to protect the public interest by undertaking independent checks of buildings at design stage and construction stage.
The ageing workforce in Building standards, in combination with few young people entering the profession, poses a significant challenge to the succession planning in the sector. Resulting staff shortages in turn prompt LAs to compete for existing, experienced staff.
It has been estimated by Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS) - which represents all LA building standards in Scotland - that around 150 replacement staff are required by Building Standards Departments in the next five years.
The LAs have found individual ways to recruit candidates with the right skills for lower-level vacancies, while confirming that the recruitment of experienced building standards specialists remains a crucial challenge. These practices thus do not represent a guarantee that the problem of an ageing workforce will be sustainably solved. The problem of not enough young people entering the profession therefore continues to persist.
The importance of young people for the building standards profession
This report, commissioned by the Scottish Government Building Standard Division, presents reasons why so few young people are entering the profession - chief amongst them being lack of awareness of building standards roles. It provides information on the influences on young people in Scotland when choosing a career and preferred sources and means of communication of career information. In addition, the report outlines positive and negative forces influencing the public profile and promotion of the profession amongst young people.
The research shows that the reasons as to why insufficient numbers of young people enter the profession are manifold.
Little awareness of building standards
The survey of young people conducted for this research confirmed that the profession, despite having come into increased public focus due to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Oxgangs School incident, is poorly understood by young people and is not seen as a career pathway. Young people responded positively to the generic skills and knowledge requirements of the building standards profession such as communication, problem solving or report writing. However, they were less sure about more technical aspects, including inspecting buildings or examining drawings.
To further investigate this result, young people studying building standards related qualifications were interviewed. When presented with an outline of tasks of a Building Standards Verifier, interviewees were intrigued by the public safety and environmental regulation aspects of the profession and felt that a related career in the public sector would be interesting. On the other hand, they were daunted by the enforcement of building regulations, which was perceived as involving difficult communication situations and they had difficulty distinguishing the on-site and off-site aspects of the role.
No clear pathway or specific information for young people
Research of pathways and vacancies in Building Standards Departments in LAs has confirmed that there is no clear pathway in terms of qualification or work experience that directly points, or leads, to a career in the profession. Indeed, some of the most commonly used career websites do not make reference to building standards when presenting related professions such as surveyor or civil engineer. Similarly, we did not find any evidence of universities that offer related degrees showing building standards among their graduates' potential destinations. The research, however, confirmed that providing more related information is only one of many factors to attract young people. To establish further factors, the research analysed the influences, priorities, preferred information and communication channels that inform young people career choices.
Career Information needed by young people
When considering future career options, young people mainly turn to their families and friends. Across all age groups, the majority of young people confirmed that advice from parents/family and friends, open days, career websites and one-on-one coaching are their preferred sources. The interviews of young people studying related disciplines also corroborated the important influence of family and friends in making related decisions.
When considering a career, the qualifications and skills needed, as well as salary offered, were considered most important by the respondents. In terms of gender, females prioritise career progression over salary as the third most important factor, while males value salary over skills and knowledge.
The preferred career information channels for young people are social media, electronic means and open days. When accessing information, young people want information that is up to date, detailed and provided in real-time.
A related survey of career advisers not only confirmed but also elaborated these findings. Career advisers emphasised that information communicated and presented in such ways should include case studies and success stories as well as outlining a clear set of skills and qualifications needed. In addition, career prospects and job satisfaction play a crucial role.
Towards a career engagement strategy
Building on these results, this report provides a set of strategic considerations to engage more young people and to attract them into a career in building standards using both an "inside" and an "outside" track.
The collaboration between relevant stakeholders, namely providers of career information such as Skills Development Scotland, employers (LAs) and the Scottish Government (Building Standards Division) has to be continued and expanded to ensure effective succession planning in the building standards profession and to attract young people. Furthermore, existing career information on prevalent careers websites should cross-reference information and related sources on careers in building standards. The opportunity should also be taken to engage directly with careers advisers to equip them with tailored information to impart to young people face-to-face.
The use of multiple forms of communication (including social media and online tools) is necessary to reach the widest possible audience of young people in a cost-effective way. This is also a consideration for reaching the main influencers of young people, including family and friends. In terms of information, salaries, prospects and the skills/qualifications-needed are most important.