Improving building safety through qualification

A dedicated degree and other initiatives aim to ensure that building control professionals are properly qualified to carry out vital building safety work


  • Martin Cawley

17 February 2022

Young Asian woman wearing graduate gown


The UK building control profession has been through a turbulent few years. Appropriately qualified staff are few and far between, but they have had to contend with new regulations and ensure tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire never happen again. At the same time, we have all been dealing with a global pandemic. It certainly hasn't been straightforward.

The good news is that the building control already has part of the solution to these problems: its passionate and dedicated workers. They want to make a difference in the sector and change things for the better.

Emphasis on qualified personnel

A key message from the Hackitt report was that professionals working in building safety need appropriate qualifications. These people need not only to understand new regulations, such as those to be introduced by the Building Safety Bill, but how to put them into practice. This does not just happen by osmosis. Professionals need proper investment and training if we are going to see significant change.

At the University College of Estate Management (UCEM), our academic team has been working closely to develop new degrees with our employer base and the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI), who are soon to become building control approvers under the changes proposed in section 42 of the Building Safety Bill.

One of these is our RICS-accredited BSc (Hons) Building Control which was launched in May 2019 with the first intake starting their studies that September. It is the most important programme that we've created in recent years. Discussions for the development of this programme started in July 2016 with a meeting involving Andy Crooks, chief executive of JHAI. The discussion centred around the need for an online programme that delivered more building control specific content than, for example, quantity surveying. This then led to a collaboration with the education committee of the ACAI where the outcome was to determine what the modules would be.

The degree is ideal for those interested in building technology, standards, fire safety, inclusive environments and energy conservation. It can be taken by those working for local authorities or the private sector, as well as approved inspectors.

Teaching is conducted online, and it takes four-and-a-half years to complete the 17 modules part-time. Modules cover topics such as property law, design and environmental science, fire safety and construction technology, and there is also a project module in the final year.

The degree can be started in either autumn or spring. It enhances career prospects, and covers all the skills necessary to become a successful chartered building control surveyor.

'A key message from the Hackitt report was that professionals working in building safety need appropriate qualifications'

Affordable and accessible apprenticeships

The degree is also available as an apprenticeship programme. UCEM has recently had its degree apprenticeship provision inspected by Ofsted and been given the overall rating of 'Good' with the area behaviour and attitudes being given an 'Outstanding'.

The Apprenticeship Levy means that educating staff is affordable. Smaller businesses only need to pay 5% of the training costs for an apprenticeship programme, while larger businesses can use their levy pot for 100%. If a business has fewer than 50 employees, the government will even cover 100% of training costs.

Apprenticeships can be used to train any employee, not just college leavers. UCEM currently has more than 70 apprentices aged 40 or above, with more to join in our spring intake. This proves that it's never too late to start learning.

Forum fosters collaboration and engagement

UCEM has also developed a building control forum. This brings together key bodies and employers of all sizes to share best practice, support and coordinate apprentice recruitment, identify placement opportunities, and support more relevant CPD. Our first meeting was on 3 February, and focused on attracting a new generation into building control. Initially the forum will be for employers supporting the UCEM apprenticeship programme, and as it grows the aim is to open it wider.

Helping to ensure that our buildings are safe has never been more important. Our priority should be to ensure that those responsible for safety have the necessary training and qualifications to provide the highest-quality buildings.

A helpful way for us to prioritise building control is to stop thinking about it as control and start thinking of it instead as building safety. When we start referring to it this way, we can see that there is nothing more important in the built environment.

Gary Strong, RICS' global building standards director, comments: 'Collaboration is key to ensure that everyone in the sector prioritises building control and invests in it, producing skilled, competent professionals. This is a subject that I'm passionate about, and I'm pleased to see UCEM paving the way.'

Martin Cawley is associate director at UCEM
Contact Martin: Email

Related competencies include: Building control inspections, Fire safety, Legal/regulatory compliance

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