Skills shortages

A future skills drought?
Les Pickford summarises faculty consultations on skills shortages with key industry opinion formers and stakeholders

O

ver the last two years, the Building Surveying and QS &
Construction Faculties embarked upon a series of detailed
consultations with some of the larger employers in the
built environment.
A common theme was the concern about skills shortages, which
were identified as a business critical issue and a restraint on growth.
These comments shaped RICS activities and prompted a rewrite
of the APC Competencies, the production of competency guides for
individual faculties and a successful QS Visa campaign. RICS will
explore whether a similar campaign is appropriate for BSs and PMs.
To help direct its future activities on skills, RICS facilitated a
workshop in autumn 2007 attended by industry opinion formers
and stakeholders. The attendees included consultants, academics
and contractors from different sectors and locations, with the
findings reviewed by the relevant faculty boards.
What’s the problem?
Attendees were asked to consider the main causes of the current
shortage, with responses clustered into four themes. They then
reflected upon these themes, with the findings summarised below:
1. Employers could play a more active role in the training and
development of new talent:
a) Work experience – employers to provide opportunities for work
experience at GCSE, undergraduate and postgraduate levels
b) Training – employers to develop/market training and personal
development opportunities for ‘traditional’ graduates (cognate
and non-cognate)
c) Tertiary education – employers to take a more active role
in the development and delivery of such programmes
d) RICS APC process – RICS to identify key areas to improve
the experience from employer, candidate, supervisor and
counsellor perspectives.
2. Widen the recruitment pool beyond ‘traditional’ graduate entry:
a) Marketing – RICS to develop improved marketing tools to attract
new entrants from diverse backgrounds and ‘career break’
construction professionals
b) Funding – employers and universities to develop
alternative models for funding top-up and/or modular courses
c) Education – universities to provide more variety in tertiary
education, course content and delivery, to fit the specific
needs of this diverse group
d) Flexible working – employers to develop and market
alternative employment models suited to the mature market
e) Apprenticeships – employers to increase support for 16-18
year-olds who don’t wish to take full-time tertiary education.
RICS to expand the Chartered Surveying Training Trust.
Universities to increase day release opportunities
f) RICS membership – RICS to consider more flexible routes
to entry that give practical experience an equivalent weighting
with academic qualifications.

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Building Surveying Journal

May-June 08

33% are over 55, i.e. one third
of the current membership may
retire in the next 10 years
3. The engagement between academic institutions
and employers needs to be improved:
a) Sector guidance – employers to clarify the knowledge
and skills expected from graduates
b) Built environment partnership meetings – hold meetings
to focus specifically on the needs of employers and academia
c) Life long learning – universities to develop flexible modules
and online learning tools linked to employer structured career
development plans
d) RICS facilitation – RICS to facilitate employer engagement
with university R&D. Universities to provide additional training
opportunities through accredited top-up courses in specific
technical areas.
4. The profession needs to be seen as an attractive career
option for school leavers and undergraduates:
a) Marketing – RICS to provide marketing support to promote
specific opportunities for surveyors in the built environment
b) Government agencies – RICS to increase engagement with
government agencies responsible for promoting construction
to career advisors
c) Work experience – employers to develop attractive work
experience programmes for GCSE students
d) Qualifications – more construction-related qualifications
to be made available within the school curriculum
e) Product placement – more examples of positive role
models for surveyors in the built environment.

The numbers game
The number of BS pathway enrolments has increased by 28% in
the last three years, with 513 new trainees in the year to 31 July
2007. The number sitting their final assessment has remained
steady but pass rates are improving; from 51% to 59% over the
same period.
While in the long term this picture is promising, the skills
shortage lies with the age profile of current members: with an
average age of 44, only 12% are under 35 and 55% are
between 35 and 55, while 33% are over 55, i.e. one third of the
current membership may retire in the next 10 years. QSs and
PMs have similar numbers.
If trends continue, and the numbers are extrapolated forward,
we could see a net shortfall of almost 7,000 qualified BSs in the
next decade.

Skills shortages

© Mike Dabell

Skills shortages – a building surveyor’s view

The plan ahead
To take matters forward, RICS proposes the following sequence
of actions:
1. Review existing career and marketing material produced by RICS.
Develop a suite of documents targeted at potential new entrants
to the built environment
2. Review the involvement of the Chartered Surveying Training Trust
with the surveying professions in the built environment
3. Review the existing level of RICS engagement with government
agencies responsible for promoting careers in the built environment.
Prepare recommendations to increase the profile of surveying as a
career option
4. Develop an external campaign to highlight the potential economic
impacts of the skills shortages. Lobby key stakeholders
5. Undertake a review of existing postgraduate training processes.
Prepare a framework for best practice
6. Review the existing level of engagement between universities,
students, employers and RICS regions. Prepare recommendations
for improving the profile and attraction of surveying in the built
environment.
The future
The concerns expressed during these consultations have highlighted
the scale of the issue. New entrants won’t be ‘on stream’ for some
years, there remains a significant number of vacancies and losing up to
one third of members through retirement not only affects the numbers,
but is also the loss of an enormous amount of experience.
The above short-term action plan aims to address some immediate
priorities, but improving the current skills shortage requires our whole
profession to be involved. So what do you think? What firm ideas do
you have and what plans are you putting in place to improve the skills
shortage and its impact on your business?

As a Director of a Building Consultancy Department with
responsibilities for recruitment, I find the results of the RICS Skills
Shortage report particularly concerning but not entirely surprising.
It’s true that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit, because
of the shortage of newly qualified building surveyors in the market.
Any practice wishing to recruit at this level will be competing with
many others to attract the ‘cream’ of the graduate pool into their
business. To make matters worse, recruitment agencies know this
and candidates’ salary expectations are artificially inflated.
As a profession, we must address this problem at source and,
quite literally, go back to school and elevate the status of the
chartered building surveyor. Over recent years, we have developed
good relationships with UK universities and a recent initiative
involved undergraduates attending an ‘Open Evening’ at our
offices. I also liaise with my old school and offer work experience
to any pupil interested in the built environment.
The profession needs to be seen as an attractive career option
for school leavers and undergraduates. We should be making
students aware that the profession offers significant career
opportunities equal to those of law and accountancy.
The recruitment pool also needs to be widened. Many firms,
including mine, are increasingly looking to non-cognate degree
graduates who have developed a genuine interest in entering the
property profession – an interest that might not have been there
while at school.
While there may be a perception that a non-cognate’s lack of
core technical expertise may pose problems, we don’t see this as
an issue. The experience these non-cognates gain working within
a large company, while being sponsored to attend an RICSaccredited postgraduate qualification, makes them a worthwhile
investment. It is important to consider the long-term benefits of
non-cognate graduate recruitment and not get too hung up on
the perceived short-term problems.
Our profession has a duty to meet this problem head on.
RICS plans to continue its consultation with opinion formers and
stakeholders and is taking the problem seriously. I would set a
challenge to all faculty members and employers alike to do the
same and consider it their own responsibility to contribute at a
‘grass roots level’.
Michael Sutton, Director, CB Richard Ellis, Building Consultancy
Department, Birmingham
michael.sutton@cbre.com

Les Pickford is Editor of the Building Surveying Journal
lpickford@rics.org

To contribute to this project, or obtain a copy of the Skills shortages in the
built environment report, please email Chloe Green at cgreen@rics.org

May-June 08

Building Surveying Journal

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