BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

How degree apprenticeships help fill skills gap

Concern about declining competence levels and renewed emphasis on safety are increasing demand for building control surveyors. Degree apprenticeships can help meet this need, as one course shows

Author:

  • Dr Nick Williams MRICS
  • Dr Paul Hampton FRICS

07 July 2022

University of Wolverhampton

Building control is fundamental to health and safety, to energy efficiency and – at a time when we need to build new homes faster than we have in decades – to the effective regulation of the construction industry. This means qualified building control surveyors are in high demand at the moment. Despite this, the sector faces a number of challenges.

In 2017, a report published by the then Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government's Building Control Performance Standards Advisory Group drew attention to the age profile of the profession, suggesting that many building control bodies were facing significant staffing challenges as experienced surveyors approached retirement. The report also showed that the average building control surveyor's level of experience and qualifications was on a downward trajectory.

Meanwhile, the 2020 report, Recommendations on the future regulation of the Building Control Sector and Profession in England, published by RICS, found that, until recently, funding for training and development in building control has declined as competition in the sector intensified, exacerbated by downturns in the construction industry.

This report went on to argue that a wider culture of deregulation during the preceding years had diminished the value and authority of building control bodies. But the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 made it clear that it was essential to change the mindset of the construction industry and improve competence levels.

Programmes support professional development

In response to this growing skills gap, education providers have been developing degree apprenticeships to help new professionals advance their careers in building control, and enable those with several years' practical experience to gain formal qualifications.

One such programme is the University of Wolverhampton's building control surveying degree apprenticeship, which took its first students in 2018. They graduated last year, and a second cohort followed this May.

The programme was designed and developed by the university in collaboration with employers, Local Authority Building Control (LABC) and professional bodies. The course is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Building, the Chartered Association of Building Engineers and RICS. It is taught by lecturers who – in addition to their academic and teaching qualifications – are professionally qualified and have practical experience in the sector.

Entrants to the programme need to be currently employed in a building control or building standards role, working a minimum of 30 hours per week. They will typically require a minimum of three A levels, an equivalent qualification, or practical experience in a construction- or property-related discipline.

Most applicants will join at year one of the programme. However, those with suitable existing qualifications and experience can start at year two or three, completing the programme even more quickly.

Degree apprentices take the 48-month course part-time alongside their full-time jobs. Employers are required to release an apprentice for off-the-job training and study for at least 20% of their normal working hours – effectively, one study day a week during term time.

The classes are largely delivered online, except for one face-to-face residential week each term. This makes it convenient for apprentices to study the course wherever they are based in the country. As well as support from lecturers, all apprentices are allocated a personal tutor and a skills coach to support them in their studies.

Related article

Improving building safety through qualification

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School of Architecture and Built Environment interior, University of Wolverhampton

Inside the School of Architecture and Built Environment © University of Wolverhampton

Modules focus on core skills

The University of Wolverhampton's programme covers a range of built environment subjects.

This includes modules on topics such as: 

  • sustainable construction technology 

  • building control and construction law 

  • digital construction and data management 

  • advanced fire safety 

  • sports grounds safety and accessibility.

Through the combination of practical and educational experience and support, the programme aims to enable apprentices to:

  • gain the essential core skills and knowledge necessary for those practising as building control surveyors or building standards inspectors 

  • develop an understanding of technical compliance measures in the approved document suite and other relevant standards 

  • develop transferable skills such as team working, independent learning, decision-making and problem-solving

  • develop an awareness and knowledge of enforcement under building law 

  • enhance skills in construction and built environment-related projects, including managing people and resources, and leadership skills.

Towards the end of the programme, all degree apprentices must complete a dissertation. This gives them an opportunity to undertake their own research and contribute to knowledge in a particular aspect of building control of interest to them.

Course addresses Hackitt concerns

In her review of the Building Regulations and fire safety, Dame Judith Hackitt said the ability of those undertaking building work to choose whether building control services are provided by the local authority or private-sector approved inspectors 'appears to be unique across the UK regulatory environment'. She went on to identify that this creates 'incentives for building control competitors to attract business by offering minimal interventions or supportive interpretations to contractors'.

Professional ethics are therefore central to the knowledge, skills and behaviours that underpin the University of Wolverhampton's degree apprenticeship. It uses scenario-based exercises to develop apprentices' understanding of what RICS and other building control professional bodies expect when it comes to ethical practice.

Another of Dame Judith's key findings was the need for higher standards of competence among built environment professionals. During their studies and on-the-job training, degree apprentices at Wolverhampton therefore study technical topics including design principles, fire safety and construction technology.

The course also covers detailed aspects of building legislation, regulatory processes and professional practice. Assessments are designed around practical application of their learning on building control functions.

Graduates set up to enrol on APC

To be accredited by RICS, the modules on the course are mapped on to the chartered building control surveyor competencies; although it should be noted that students with an RICS-accredited degree can use it to enrol on any APC pathway. On successful completion, apprentices will achieve a BSc (Hons) in building control.

RICS global building standards director Gary Strong comments: 'A career in building control has never been in greater demand. More professionals will be required following the passage of the Building Safety Act 2022 in England, and increased scrutiny of building safety in other countries. RICS has long supported the need for degree apprenticeships as a route to gaining professional qualifications.'

'To be accredited by RICS, the modules on the course are mapped on to the chartered building control surveyor competencies'

 

Dr Nick Williams MRICS is course leader and senior lecturer, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Wolverhampton
Contact Nick: Email

Dr Paul Hampton FRICS is head of department, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Wolverhampton
Contact Paul: Email

Related competencies include: Construction technology and environmental services, Fire safety, Legal/regulatory compliance

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