Building Standards Year of Young People: attracting young people into a career in building standards

This project investigated why young people are not choosing a career in building standards and looked for ways to encourage them.

This document is part of a collection

3 Job roles, Entry Routes and Requirements

3.1 Job roles and entry routes

To build a picture of job roles and entry routes into the profession and related disciplines, we undertook the following activities:

  • desk research to draw out existing insights into recruitment practices in Building Standards Departments and evidence of roles and structures;
  • analysed the content of job websites frequently visited by young people to review the profiles of: Building Control Officer (My World of Work), Building Standards Surveyor (Planit), Building Control Surveyor (Prospect UK), Building Control Officer (UCAS), Building Control Surveyor (Go Construct);
  • analysed the vacancies of seven LA building standards services in terms of required qualifications, levels of experience and transferable skills viewed as essential and/or desirable;
  • interviewed six LAs by telephone to investigate pathways into the profession and recruitment from the local practitioner perspective;
  • facilitated a dedicated stakeholder roundtable to discuss pathways into the profession, related challenges, and the proposed building standards-specific graduate apprenticeship.

Job roles and levels within building standards tend to vary between LAs - mainly due to their size, their geographical location (e.g. rural vs urban), and local economic activity - and are not set to a national template.

Most staff are trained and qualified Building Surveyors with a key aspect of their role being to assess building warrant applications. Based on evidence gathered through telephone interviews with LAs and research of vacancies, the role of Inspector generally involves more junior responsibilities in field-based inspection and assisting in building warrant plan assessment for on-going building work. In terms of qualifications required, we found evidence that a Building Standards Inspector is expected to have been educated to SVQ Level 3/HNC level in a relevant discipline and to have construction or building-related professional experience. In contrast, Building Standards Officers can have decision-making responsibilities including assessing and approving building warrant applications and are expected to hold a degree in a related discipline and ideally be accredited with either RICS, CABE or CIOB. Job grades and levels typically range from trainees and building standards inspectors and officers, through to senior officers (with chartered professional status), team leaders and managers.

The following entry pathways into the building standards profession are currently on offer by LAs and have been recently advertised. Each has its own range of entry qualifications (see section 3.2) required and these can differ according to LA. There is no set pathway into the profession: the following list of example job roles presents the various pathways available based on research of vacancies and telephone interviews:

  • Trainee Quantity Surveyor
  • Trainee Architectural Officer
  • Modern Apprenticeship (MA) in Quantity Surveying/Civil Engineering/Structural Engineering/Business & Administration
  • Building Standards Technician
  • Graduate Building Standards Officer
  • Graduate Building Standards Surveyor
  • Building Standards Surveyor
  • Building Standards Inspector

The diagrams in Appendix 1 illustrate typical organisational structures of LA Building Standards Departments.

3.2 Entry requirements

Evidence from existing research

Pye Tait Consulting's 2016 research[5] identified that new recruits into building standards are typically required to possess at least a degree level qualification in a relevant discipline, such as building surveying, building engineering or architecture. Chartered professional status (e.g. RICS, CABE or CIOB) was seen as 'desirable' for new recruits, supported by experience in the field where possible. The same research found that new recruits and trainees are encouraged to work towards chartered professional qualifications where not already held. Furthermore, while some LAs would consider a candidate straight from university and be willing to mentor them to reach chartered status, others would not be willing to make that commitment due to resource pressures such as cost and time.

Not all long-standing staff appear to possess chartered professional status and LAs said they did not pursue this for two reasons:

  • some staff were reluctant to take on this additional responsibility late on in their careers; and
  • the attainment of professional status among these staff was unlikely to add additional value or lead to additional income.

Evidence from the review of job advertisements and careers information

During the roundtable conducted for this current research, participants confirmed that the entry requirements in the profession had changed.

Due to technological progress, further regulatory requirements and evolving building standards legislation, the profession requires more specialist knowledge and skills. Traditional entry routes via the construction trade without further dedicated training in building standards are not considered adequate by some building standards stakeholders. The ageing workforce creates a challenge in the retention of knowledge, an essential feature of ensuring the highest quality in building standards services.

Job advertisements for experienced building standards professionals (analysed for this study) emphasise experience of work in building standards in an LA and/or the construction sector as well as experience of buildings and building site inspections.

Table 1 shows the essential requirements (qualifications and experience) for four roles recently advertised by LAs. Whilst, for the Graduate role listed, experience of working in a building standards service is not 'essential', it is stated as being 'desirable'. It is essential for the other roles.

Table 1: Examples of entry requirements for selected building standards roles[6]


Qualifications and experience required (essential)

Building Standards Inspector

SVQ Level 3/HNC

A moderate level of experience in the construction industry

A moderate level of experience in local authority building standards

Building Standards Technician

HNC and/or have previous experience of working in a planning or building standards environment and be able to demonstrate equivalent knowledge, skills and competencies gained through relevant experience.

Graduate Building Standards Surveyor

BSc in Building Surveying or related degree

Proficient in use of Microsoft Office packages including word, excel, access and outlook

Experience of recording and entry of casework data onto IT systems

Report writing experience

Building Standards Surveyor

Detailed knowledge and skill in all aspects of the Building (Scotland) Act, associated legislation and the detail and application of the Building Standards, covering subjects as diverse as structure, environment, safety, noise, energy and sustainability.

The continually changing nature of this legislation requires continuing CPD to ensure an up to date knowledge is maintained.

Experience in designing and/or checking building construction projects for compliance with the building regulations and mandatory standards

Familiar with but not experts in, Health and Safety legislation, and be able to identify, assess and understand the implications of unauthorised building works on public safety.

Communicating verbally and in writing in a concise and factual manner in relation to any matters, including decisions made, to architects, engineers, builders and other building professionals and to members of the public.

Inspecting building work on site in order to ensure compliance with approved plans and identify where rectification is required.

Possess corporate membership of the RICS, CABE CIOB or equivalent.

Extensive professional experience of all aspects of design and construction.

Good verbal and oral communication skills and be able to write technical reports in a manner understood by both professional and lay persons.

Highly developed numeracy and IT skills.

Ability to inspect a site or building to determine the level of protective works required to ensure the safety of the public.

Valid Driving Licence

The ability to inspect work on site (approx. 2 or 3 days per week).

The ability to climb ladders or scaffolding and inspect within confined spaces where necessary (all with appropriate Health and Safety controls)

Ability to assess plans for compliance from a computer screen

Ability to interpret plans whilst on site from a hand-held tablet device

Principal Building Standards Officer

Degree in a relevant discipline or equivalent, appropriate experience.

Chartered member of an institute representing the professional disciplines covered by the service.

Significant relevant professional experience, including supervisory/management experience.

Proven leadership ability.

High order written and verbal communication skills.

Highly developed inter-personal skills.

Dependable financial management ability.

In-depth knowledge of current and proposed legislation and best practice relevant to the responsibilities of the service.

Good information technology skills.

Knowledge and skills that are most commonly sought, include:

  • Knowledge of building standards regulations and analytical skills
  • Teamwork
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving
  • Report writing
  • IT
  • Communication/interpersonal skills.

The job-profile for "Building Control Officer" on the Scottish portal My World of Work (operated by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and widely used by young people), also lists communication, teamwork and problem-solving as some of the top skills required as well as 'explaining things', 'persuading people' and 'being tactful'. It also highlights 'using computers' as a key skill[7].

Similarly, for the role of 'Building Standards Surveyor', the website Planit (run by a consortium of Scottish LAs) lists communications skills, problem-solving and good observation skills, but also adds more technical skills such as the ability to understand technical drawings and knowledge of building regulations[8]. It also includes softer skills and characteristics of 'good observation and good judgement' and 'assertiveness for making unpopular decisions'.

Likewise, the UK-wide UCAS and Prospect websites emphasise communication and problem-solving skills as well as IT skills and technical knowledge for the job profiles of Building Control Officer/Surveyor[9]. There is also information about the role of 'Building Control Surveyor' on the CITB website 'Go Construct'. This profile focuses more on the technical nature of the role, rather than the softer skills or attributes required and lists the following aspects of the role (amongst others):

  • 'Work on the planning and construction phases of a variety of projects, from small house extensions to major city developments'
  • 'Called in when buildings have been damaged by fire or bad weather'
  • 'Inspect any unsafe building and recommend whether it can be repaired or should be demolished'[10]

According to the LA Building Standards Departments spoken to as part of this research, usually a relevant degree in a building-related discipline is required, although on one occasion, relevant experience and the readiness to study towards a relevant degree were accepted. Studying towards, or having obtained, RICS chartered status was deemed desirable or essential by several LAs[11]. One LA has transferred a young person on an MA in Business and Administration to their Building Standards Department, from elsewhere in the Authority. Apart from assisting the department in the preparation of building warrants and other administrative tasks, the apprentice has been shadowing Building Standards Officers in their work on site visits and is attending training in site-safety and working at height.

Another LA also uses MAs as the preferred route to hire new talent. In a telephone interview, the LA confirmed that young people are very attracted to completing an MA while employed in the public sector, but that young people are less concerned about the MA discipline. In cases where there is no suitable MA framework on offer, the LA described advertising for graduates instead. These examples not only confirm the value of MAs in recruiting young talent, but also show that they may be flexibly applied to enable the entry of young people into the building standards profession.

Some of the descriptions on relevant career websites corroborate this profile, though not specifically addressing building standards. In this context, the LABSS website lists building standards vacancies in LAs, but does not provide information on entry routes into the profession, but rather focuses on a description of the nature of services that Building Standards Departments in LAs provide.

All websites emphasise the need for a degree in a related discipline and the potential requirement of obtaining chartered status from RICS, or equivalent body. The analysed job vacancies in LAs equally listed chartered status as an essential or desirable feature of the preferred candidate profiles (see section 3.3. for further information on more junior roles).

Please see appendix 2 for examples of job adverts.

To summarise, information on the skills required in the building standards profession is already provided indirectly by well-used web-portals and the LAs themselves when recruiting for experienced and entry level positions.

Relevant qualifications

The desk review undertaken for this research involved scoping out and identifying the availability of relevant qualifications, as stipulated by LAs in their job descriptions. In many cases, as highlighted above, these descriptions include the requirement for a construction-related degree; others require a relevant qualification (not necessarily degree-level) such as an HNC/D, plus relevant experience.

The desk review identified a total of 24 relevant undergraduate degrees in Scotland, in directly relevant fields of Construction Management, Surveying, Architecture and Architectural Technology. These are available at eight institutions:

  • Edinburgh Napier
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Robert Gordon University
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of the Highlands and Islands

In addition, there are listings of 22 HNC/HND offerings at various colleges across Scotland (Table 2 in Appendix 3).

Our review found no specific mention of building standards in the relevant course-related information.

Data showing the numbers of graduates from each institution at course level are not available. However, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that in 2015/16 (latest figures) there were over 2,000 qualifications obtained from architecture, building and planning courses in Scotland. Of these, 910 were first degrees and 135 were HNC/Ds (Table 3 in Appendix 3). There is some data available on employment outcomes of graduates from each Scottish University on building, architecture and planning courses, however the most up to date figures are from 2015/16 (Table 4 in Appendix 3).

At the lower level, there is a pipeline of graduates from various construction-related courses at SCQF Levels 4 to 6, including Skills for Work, National Progression Awards, and National Certificates. In 2018 there were just over 1,500 attainments on these courses (Table 5 in Appendix 3).

3.3 Recruitment and training challenges

Most LAs interviewed for this research seek candidates with a construction and building related qualification. However, the profession requires a specific blend of building regulations knowledge and/or related experience in checking compliance with these that is appropriate to the responsibilities of different junior, mid-level and senior roles. The issue is exacerbated by the lack of available courses specific enough to the profession, as reported by the LABSS research.

Recruitment methods and career pathways in building standards do not appear to be nationally consistent or harmonised, with each LA setting and following its own approaches. Pye Tait Consulting's 2016 research for the Building Standards Division (BSD) identified that recruitment challenges tend to prevail in more rural areas, with instances of roles being re-advertised to ensure vacancies are only filled by candidates with the required mix of qualifications and/or experience[12].

Based on research into vacancies (see above), it seems that LAs recruit on the basis of perceived local needs and different local interpretations of the nature of the building standards roles. Several interviewed LAs employ Building Inspectors as non-graduate entry level positions. Other recruitment approaches include hiring experienced workers with an HNC and construction-related work experience (e.g. builders or electricians). Most LAs have shadowing systems in place to provide on the job mentoring and training.

Finding and recruiting young people is not seen as especially difficult in itself, for example LAs say they cooperate with local universities and schools, offer related MAs in quantity surveying or civil engineering, or appoint to non-specialist entry level positions. With respect to entry-level positions, LAs recruit via a number of different routes, including direct entry from university, hiring experienced workers from other built-environment roles, as well as school leavers into MAs in relevant construction-related disciplines.

Depending on the LA, there are then opportunities to progress and specialise. Specialist areas include:

  • Modern building technologies
  • Digital technologies
  • Renewable energies
  • Fire safety and protection
  • Finance and budgeting
  • Residential, commercial, or industrial buildings

It has to be noted that the use of these pathways and approaches depends on the respective LA. The organigrams of the LAs that advertised for Building Standard Surveyors or Officers included between one and two FTE Graduate Building Standards Surveyor positions as well as positions for Building Standards Inspectors (Appendix 1).

However, a key challenge appears to be recruiting professionals with relevant experience and skills, with some LAs saying that they "poach" each other's staff to get the experience they need.

Graduate Apprenticeship

According to a 2018 LABSS survey of 195 of its members[13], existing training courses in Scotland are not specific enough to building standards. It is understood that a new Graduate Apprenticeship in Building Standards is set to be introduced[14]. Designed in cooperation with Glasgow Caledonian and Edinburgh Napier universities, the programme aims to provide a degree in combination with on the job-training in a LA over four years.

The four-year Graduate Apprenticeship (GA) in Building Standards is a proposed future course that aims to help close the apparent gap of a clear pathway into the building standards profession. The basis of the programme is to hire a school or college leaver and train them in the profession, on the job, as an apprentice as well as giving them the time to complete a related degree at an accredited university.

Whilst the GA was welcomed by contributors to this research with some enthusiasm as it is putting building standards on the education 'map', some of the LAs are somewhat sceptical about components of it: notably the length of the graduate apprenticeship, and the need for a specific building standards route.

Others suggested a related HNC/HND qualification followed by training on the job. Alternatively, one interviewed LA proposed, as a substitute to gaining a specific degree in building standards, construction professionals and those with related qualifications could attend a dedicated course of no longer than 12 months (see below).

Recruiting experienced workers and graduates

Some LAs have established ways to manage succession planning and have not faced problems hiring young people locally. These LAs often focused on hiring workers with either construction experience or from related trades such as Electrician into Building Inspector positions, with the prospect of progression to Building Standards Officer or Surveyor.

Also, graduates from related disciplines such as surveying or architecture are regularly employed. In some areas, LAs are at an advantage, offering a higher graduate salary than the private sector.

Funding pressures

The issues of financial pressure on the operations of building standards services in LAs and related succession planning challenges were widely confirmed at the roundtable, during telephone interviews for this research and at a BSD event on the Graduate Apprenticeship (27th March 2019).

Finding a suitable young person for an advertised role was not seen as a particular challenge, but rather securing the financial support for a position to be created and (re)filled is creating difficulties.

Overall, therefore, there appears to be a significant difference between succession needs and related planning as well as funding resources available. While vacancies designed for young people with a construction-related qualification and/or related experience and graduates from related fields seem to relatively easy to fill. Conversely, the reduction of FTE numbers in the building standards services, as the LABSS survey indicates, is a major factor for succession planning.

LAs telephoned also confirmed, as highlighted in the LABSS survey, that revenues generated by the building standards services are not fully re-invested in funding for full-time permanent roles and other related activities such as continued professional development. Rather, the funding needed to support a position may be drawn up from various elements of LA budget streams to create or re-fill a new position in building standards.



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