Publication - Strategy/plan

Building standards verification service: workforce strategy

A strategy which supports the development of a workforce that has the competency and capability to deliver a first-class service.

Building standards verification service: workforce strategy
Part 1 – Aims and Commitments

Part 1 – Aims and Commitments

1.0 Introduction

The need to strengthen skills, training and competence of building standards verifiers was first raised by the Compliance and Enforcement Review Panel, Chaired by Professor John Cole. The subsequent public consultation on Compliance and Fire Safety in 2018 sought wider views from the public and industry on the roles and responsibilities of verifiers. The responses confirmed that the competence and resourcing of verifiers was an issue that needed to be addressed. 

Scottish Government Building Standards Division has since established a Building Standards Futures Board to look at strengthening and reshaping the building standards system. The workforce strategy is the one of the outcomes from the board.

Scottish Ministers appoint the 32 local authorities in Scotland as building standards verifiers for their own geographical areas. The Building (Scotland) Act 2003 and secondary legislation set out their role as the verifiers of the Scottish building standards system. Their primary function is to protect the public interest by providing an independent check of applications for building warrant to construct or demolish buildings, to provide services, fittings or equipment in buildings, or to convert buildings. This includes checking during the design phase before granting a building warrant and checking during the construction phase before accepting or rejecting a completion certificate. 

The Building Standards section in local authorities is responsible for providing this regulatory function in the construction process. The service deals with a wide range of projects from housing alterations to large and complex public buildings that form part of our national infrastructure and built environment. In addition to their verification role they also enforce the building standards system for issues such as dangerous and defective buildings. 

The skills and experience of verifiers in construction are utilised by local authorities to provide other key essential services under other legislation such as entertainment or liquor licensing and safety of sports grounds.

2.0 Role of Verifiers

Verifiers are appointed by Scottish Ministers under the Building (Scotland) Act 2003. Regulation 30, "Appointment of verifiers" of the Building (Procedures) (Scotland) Regulations 2004 requires that, "Before making an appointment of a verifier under section 7(1)(a) of the Act the considerations to which Scottish Ministers shall have regard to shall include:

(a) Qualifications;
(b) Competence;
(c) Accountability to the public; and
(d) Impartiality."

Local authorities are appointed as verifiers to administer the building standards system for their own geographic area. They are appointed on the condition they meet the verification Operating Framework[1]https://www.gov.scot/publications/building-standards-verifiers-operating-framework-may-2017/› and Performance Framework 2017.[2]https://www.gov.scot/publications/building-standards-verification-performance-framework-april-2017/› 

Verifiers are expected to operate under these Frameworks. 

The Operating Framework clarifies how verification and supporting functions may be achieved. The documented operating processes of each verifier must address the following functions:

  • Integrity and Operational Resilience;
  • Administration of building warrant applications and completion certificate submissions; and
  • Maintain records to facilitate effective business operation and periodic audit by the Scottish Government.

Function 1.2 of the Operating Framework sets out the requirements for resourcing as:

"Verifiers must have staff with appropriate building standards related qualifications and experience, and have contingencies for when resourcing is not available in-house." 

The Performance Framework covers three perspectives:

  • Professional Expertise and Technical Processes;
  • Quality Customer Experience; and
  • Operational and Financial Efficiency.

There are three cross-cutting themes of "Public Interest", "Continuous Improvement" and "Partnership Working". The framework is supported by a range of key performance targets.

Verifiers need to satisfy Scottish Ministers that they are meeting, and continue to meet, performance targets and are subject to regular monitoring and periodic inspection by the Scottish Government's Building Standards Division (BSD).

3.0 Vision and Aims of the strategy

The vision is for verifiers to provide a first-class building standards service with operational resilience to meet fluctuating demands.

The aim is to strengthen the operational resilience of the building standards service by committing to change. 

The strategy supports the development of a workforce that has the competency and capability to deliver a first-class service. A key part of the strategy is developing a workforce that has the necessary skills and experience to carry out the verification role and be afforded the opportunity to gain the relevant qualifications. The expected outcome is for a sustainable service that can respond to new challenges, such as advances in construction technology and the digital world.

For this to succeed, it is essential that managers have the right tools to attract and retain people into job roles and that building standards is seen as a rewarding and fulfilling career. Raising the profile and esteem of the building standards profession is key to making this happen. Employers are in the driving seat by providing opportunities for entrants at different levels and promoting the benefits of having a professional career in the public sector.

The focus on education, training and qualifications for the current workforce is only part of the story. Currently, building standards teams predominantly have an older demographic and this poses a real risk for the future sustainability of the service. The strategy actions include work to attract a broader demographic than currently exists and include potential "career changers" who have transferable skills. 

Critically, we need to ensure there is a talent pipeline that attracts apprentices, and those from other professional disciplines such as architects, engineers and surveyors or from the traditional construction trades.

This approach has been developed in partnership with local authority building standards teams, Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS), and individuals from a range of organisations from academia, professional institutions, local government and Skills Development Scotland. Our shared goal is to build a sustainable workforce that has the capability and capacity to support operational resilience and has the competence to deliver a responsive and trusted verification service in all parts of Scotland.

The strategy is based around four themes with a shared commitment to timely and accurate data reporting:

  • A Sustainable Workforce;
  • A Skilled Workforce;
  • A Professional Framework; and
  • A Profession for Everyone.

4.0 Implementation and review

The strategy will be implemented over a three year period. After this time the strategy will be reviewed against the expected outcomes to establish if positive change has been realised. 

The strategy sets out key national commitments by Scottish Government and local commitments for local government and other partners. There are a number of actions that will be taken forward at a national and local level to deliver successful outcomes. The national and local commitments and actions are set out in 4.1 and 4.2.

The annual data reporting information will be used to measure the progress of each commitment and related action. The Measurement Framework in Part 3 sets out how success is measured and links the commitments and actions to specific outcomes.

The data will provide updated information on demand and supply into roles, the level of skills and qualifications being attained and the amount of staff and turnover experienced across all verifiers. 

4.1 National commitments and actions

 

Commitments Actions
1 A Skilled Workforce Support the development of career entry points and pathways into the profession.
Support the development of national training hubs with local authorities.
2 A Professional Framework Streamline job roles and definitions to create a single building standards profession.
Review the verification Operating Framework and Performance Framework.
3 A Profession for Everyone Raise the profile and esteem of the building standards profession.
Support the development of an Ambassadors' Network and outreach programme.
4 Data Reporting Undertake a national data collection exercise.
Develop analysis to monitor resourcing of key roles.

4.2 Local commitments and actions

  Commitments Actions
1 A Sustainable Workforce Refresh workforce plans to address capability and capacity.
Build additionality through increased used of apprenticeships.
2 A Skilled Workforce Identify skills gaps and training needs.
Support delivery of learning and development on a national basis.
3 A Professional Framework Map existing job roles to the single professional framework.
4 A Profession for Everyone Actively promote the profession as a rewarding career choice.
Develop an Ambassadors' Network and outreach programme.
5 Data Reporting Managers and HR leads to provide workforce data and report
on progress with strategy outcomes annually.

4.3 Workforce challenges

Building standards matter to most people at some time in their lifetime. In most cases it is usually when new construction work is planned. The expectation from customers is for an efficient turnaround of building warrant applications and the ability to access reliable professional advice to ensure the right decisions are made about a building's design and construction.

Having the right blend of skills, knowledge and experience in the building standards workforce is essential to meeting customer expectations. Any delay to the start of new projects can affect the livelihood of businesses and the construction sector who rely on projects starting on time.

Key Challenges

The delivery of the verification service by local authorities is currently facing three key challenges:

1. Operational resilience

The number of building warrant applications, requirements for site visits and number of completion certificate submissions are variable but peaks of activity are normal and verifiers must have capability, capacity and contingency plans to maintain service levels. 

Complexity of design
Verifiers do not always have the necessary expertise in-house to assess compliance of complex or innovative designs.

Intensity of development
A lack of competent and experienced staff runs the risk of blocking high profile and significant developments that are essential for economic growth.

Insufficient succession planning
Existing corporate-level succession planning does not wholly reflect the challenges facing verifiers and therefore does not provide a foundation to create a sustainable service.

Funding constraints
Local authorities, on an annual basis, prioritise funding for service delivery bringing operational challenges and impacts on opportunities for recruitment and training of staff in the verification service.

2  Difficulties with Attraction, Recruitment and Retention 

The low profile and limited understanding of building standards careers means there is considerable effort required to attract a changing demographic into the service and successfully recruit and retain experienced professionals.

Geographical location
Local authorities based in remote and rural parts of Scotland experience more acute problems when attracting, recruiting and retaining staff. Access to learning and development opportunities is also more challenging due to the distance to travel to reach training providers.

3 Access to appropriate learning and development

Courses offering professional learning and development do not include building standards specific elements required to undertake the different job roles in the service.

4.4 Economic Impact

Staffing

According to the workforce survey (as at 31 July 2019), there were 573 staff working in the building standards service.[3] his is the headcount – it is assumed that this is equal to 573 FTE staff.› The survey indicated that 623 staff would be required for the service to operate efficiently at a consistent level nationally. 

This represents an immediate shortage of 50 staff members which equates to 9% of the workforce. The current deficit is mainly due to the rate of new entrants to the profession not being sufficient to replenish those leaving the workforce due to retirement.

Forward look

Looking further ahead, it is assumed that the number of building warrant applications will increase in line with GDP growth. This would equate to approximately one thousand more building warrants entering the system per annum, in addition to the 39,000 currently being processed each year in Scotland. 

Based on existing workforce supply levels, a projected 13% deficit will exist over the coming years which equates to 74 staff. For illustration purposes, Figure 1 shows the projected shortfall spread evenly year on year if the current supply levels remain static. This does not take account of other workforce fluctuations or positions which become vacant in the interim period.

Building Standards workforce supply and demand levels for Scotland 

Figure 1 – Workforce supply and demand levels
Alternate text for the figure

These figures represent the total number of staff delivering all of the duties required of the building standards service, including their verification and local authority statutory duties under the Building (Scotland) Act 2003. The verification duties include processing of building warrant applications and undertaking reasonable inquiry for completion certificates, and the statutory duties dealing with defective and dangerous buildings. Building standards staff skills and experience are also utilised by the local authority for undertaking other legislative duties such as safety at sports grounds, raised structures, and other licensing responsibilities. The type of work is wide ranging and includes housing, education, health and other important aspects of our economic infrastructure and all applications vary in their level of complexity and value of work. 

Value of Building Warrant Work

The significance of the building standards process and how the service interacts with construction activity in Scotland is evidenced by the number of building warrant applications in any given year, 39,000 in 2018/19 with a total value of nearly £7 billion.

The modest workforce of 573 staff administers this work with a skills profile consisting of leadership and managerial roles (16%); a range of support and technical roles (39%) and qualified surveyors (45%). Each qualified surveyor has specialist knowledge and experience to process and approve a total value of work of around £24 million per year. The cost of delivery of the service represents value for money at 0.4% of the total value to the economy in 2018/19. This is a relatively small cost to ensure that all projects deliver healthy, safe, energy efficient and sustainable buildings.

The average value of work administered by each staff member in the total workforce headcount including support roles, is in the region of £12 million per year. On this basis it is clear that if staffing levels are raised from the current level to that required for the service to operate efficiently, there would be capacity to increase the throughput of building projects together with the potential flexibility to raise the total value to Scotland's economy to £7.63 billion per year.

Economic impact of expanding workforce capacity to process Building Warrants in Scotland 

Figure 2 – Economic impact projections
Alternate text for the figure

4.5 Workforce Demographic

Supply and Demand

Figure 3 – Scotland Level Supply and Demand (at 31 July 2019)
Scotland Level - Workforce Supply And Demand Difference Current Workforce Supply Workforce Supply - Workforce Demand Current Difference Workforce Supply - Workforce Demand 5 Year Difference Workforce 5 Year Demand As % Of Workforce Supply
Roles Number of roles Number of roles Number of roles %
Total 573 -50 -72 -12.6%
Building Standards Managers 25 -3 -4 -16.0%
Building Standards Team Leaders 46 -0 -3 -6.5%
Lead Building Standards Surveyor 20 -1 0 0.0%
Senior Surveyor 49 -5 -9 -18.4%
Building Standards Surveyor 209 -19 -16 -7.7%
Assistant Building Standards Surveyor 47 0 -8 -17.0%
Graduate Surveyor 7 -4 -7 -100.0%
Building inspector 28 -11 -20 -71.4%
Building Standards Technician 28 -3 -4 -14.3%
Building Standards Administrator (dedicated or pooled resource) 92 -2 -1 -1.1%
General Building Standards Post (no fixed grade) 0 0 0 0.0%
Other Specialist (structure, fire, etc.) 11 -1 -2 -18.2%
Other Role 11 -1 2 18.2%

The Scottish Government carried out a national workforce data collection exercise in 2019. Analysis of the data shows there is a significant gap between demand and supply of staff for different job roles in the verification service. 

As at 31 July 2019, the workforce was 573 with a significant unmet demand of 50 staff (9%) in key roles for effective service delivery. 

The shortfall of 50 is predominantly made up of qualified surveyor roles (48%) which are more difficult to recruit to. 

The projected trend is for the demand to rise by an additional 24 total staff (13%) within the next five years. 

The highest levels of demand are for two core roles; Building Standards Surveyor and Building Inspector. See Figure 3.

Demographic

Figure 4 – Demographic – including Leavers (at 31 July 2019)
Alternate text for the figure

The situation is further exacerbated by the majority of the demographic of the workforce 254 staff (44%) being 50+, who can choose to leave the service within the next five to ten years. See Figure 4.

The growing demand over the next five years will prove difficult to meet unless action is taken now. It is evident that difficulties with recruitment of new staff at the appropriate time will impact on the ability of verifiers to provide effective service delivery that will ultimately impact on the progress of construction developments. 

Local authorities are aware that the verification duty is appointed by Scottish Minsters, and they have to fulfil the conditions of their appointment. However, they have expressed concerns that budget cuts are impacting on their decisions to maintain the number of job roles within local authorities in general, and building standards is no exception. 

Geographical analysis of the data confirms that verifiers based in rural and remote areas are experiencing more acute problems when attracting, recruiting and retaining staff. A "Grow your Own" approach is strongly advocated where they invest in upskilling existing staff, recruit for junior roles and provide mentoring and training to support career progression.

Success Story: Fiona Farrell – South Lanarkshire Council

I started with South Lanarkshire Council at 19 as an Administrative Assistant. My role was to undertake administrative tasks which supported the Council's Planning and Building Standards services. 

I then took up the role of Assistant Roads Engineering Officer, unfortunately as a result of a structure review, I found myself on the Council's 'Switch 2' process. This process supports employees in circumstances where the employee becomes displaced and ensures every effort is made to find suitable alternative employment.

Whilst on the Switch 2 process, I had the opportunity to apply for the position of Trainee Building Standards Surveyor. Having enjoyed my time working alongside Building Standards Surveyors in the past, I saw this as a great opportunity to start a career within the Building Standards service.

Following a successful interview, I was appointed. I then began a day release BSc (Hons) degree course in Building Surveying. I'm currently in my fourth year of this course. During my first year I was awarded the accolade of highest achieving first year building surveying student. I was extremely proud of this achievement and saw it as recognition of my hard work during this first year.

Working full time within the building standards service has benefited my formal studies. I receive day to day support and mentoring in all aspect of building standards. This allowed me to successfully complete years two and three with 'distinction' awards.

In 2019, the experience and knowledge I gained during my time as a trainee allowed me to be appointed as a building standards surveyor, while continuing to study towards the honours year in the building surveying degree.

I'm grateful for the opportunities that a career in building standards has given me and enjoy the day to day job which has many challenges. I greatly enjoy my role in making the built environment safe and sustainable and enjoy the great variety in work from project to project. I appreciate the support of my team in guiding me through my studies and allowing me to develop my career in building standards. I would highly recommend a career in building standards, its rewarding, interesting, and as my team says, 'every day's a fun day in building standards'.


Contact

Email: Gordon.gilchrist@gov.scot