The building engineering sector must start adapting quickly to the safety and quality reforms championed by Dame Judith Hackitt, according to BESA President Neil Brackenridge
The reforms set in motion by Dame Judith will have a profound impact on our markets for many years to come and will demand a new professional culture. It is very important that companies do not wait to see what the new regulatory regime looks like, but get on with the business of change immediately.
This definitely includes the way we approach training, which will play a crucial part in equipping us for this new era while also being fundamental to the wider economic recovery.
The Hackitt Review identified systemic failings in the way construction projects are designed, delivered and managed – and BESA has welcomed the draft legislation that has now been put before parliament to turn her recommendations into law.
The draft Building Safety Bill includes a pledge to appoint the UK’s first national chief inspector of buildings before the end of this year and to distribute £1bn in new funding to remove unsafe cladding from at risk buildings.
It has been described as the biggest shake up of safety regulations in buildings for 40 years. It will include tighter regulation of all blocks of flats above 18m in height or over six storeys, which will be overseen by a new regulatory authority inside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This will be led by the new chief inspector and will have full powers to hold building owners to account. The legislation will also create new regulations for managing the safety of construction materials and products.
Dame Judith said the Bill was “an important milestone in delivering the fundamental reform this industry needs to make residents and buildings safer”.
However, she added that the industry should “be in no doubt that it is not enough to wait for the Bill to become law before they implement changes; we expect them to start taking action now”. She said the industry was “now on notice that the race to the bottom, the fragmentation, the passing on of responsibility to others has to stop and a new culture must take over now”.
However, there are already signs of bad habits, like sub-economic tendering and late payment, picking up pace again. Dame Judith has expressed her frustration that the COVID-19 crisis is being used by some as an excuse to delay making the changes to working practices that are needed to improve our record on building safety and performance.
A spirit of co-operation and mutual support did emerge during the crisis and there were many examples of companies looking out for each other. We must take this opportunity to reset our relationships within supply chains and create a model of mutual support that could also be used to inspire a whole new generation of engineers.
This new generation will need the type of skills suited to an industry emerging into this new era – one that will be far more digital and, hopefully, much more collaborative in nature.
Despite Dame Judith’s concerns, there is a determination among many in our sector not to go back to ‘business as usual’. Many BESA members, in particular, want to harness the unity of purpose seen during the pandemic and use that to build a new business model for our sector.
As a result of Hackitt’s campaign, there will be much greater emphasis placed on whether companies have the technical competence and resources to carry out building services work. BESA is currently enhancing its schemes in readiness for the new regulatory environment, which includes updating the Competence Assessment Scheme (CAS) we use to assess the technical and commercial professionalism of companies who apply for membership.
However, this will also involve enticing a wider range of people with a broader range of skills to come and work with us. We need more young people, more women, more from BAME backgrounds and with different disabilities to create the diverse workforce needed to face the new challenges ahead.
Hopefully, they will be inspired to join us because building engineering was seen playing a crucial role during the pandemic by keeping essential services operating. However, the best people will only join us if they also see us working together in greater harmony.
Young people, in particular, will be looking for careers where they feel they can make a positive contribution to their communities – and our role in delivering the new hospitals, schools and care homes of the future is a great advertisement. BESA and its members played a key role during the pandemic and can be a big part of the long-term solution.
We are starting to shape this new type of workforce through the newly launched online BESA Academy, which is now delivering a comprehensive programme of training courses, assessments and CPD for individuals, employers and training providers in the building services sector.
Individuals will be able to access all of the resources needed to improve their existing skills and learn new ones while also keeping their qualifications and competencies up to date. The Academy will also help employers and managers ensure their workforces are fully qualified and able to comply with legislation and industry standards.
It will also support efforts to plug the skills gaps by making access to the appropriate training easier, more flexible and, therefore, more appealing to a wider section of the population. All training modules are accessible from a smartphone, tablet or laptop whether the user is at home, at work or on the move.
Online learning really came into its own during the lockdown months. It proved the value of being able to access course materials from anywhere and at any time, which is exactly the BESA Academy model. Our plans were already well advanced before the crisis hit, but the surge in demand for this kind of ‘blended’ model of online and physical training accelerated our efforts.
Employers and workers benefit from the fact that courses can be accessed at any time and in any place so improving convenience and limiting disruption to working time.
All courses are flexible and can be completed in ‘bite sized chunks’. Each Academy candidate receives an online ‘skills passport’ storing all their completed training, competencies, qualifications and CV in one place for ease of access.
The Academy will also give more experienced workers facing possible redundancy the chance to stay in the industry by updating their qualifications and learning new skills so they can be redeployed where there are vacancies.
We cannot afford to let large numbers of skilled and experienced workers disappear again like we did during the last recession and must also reach out to displaced workers from other sectors who could be helped to make a career move into building engineering.
The Academy’s blended and flexible model of online learning complementing the onsite, physical elements is also an opportunity to reclaim some of our lost courses.
Many FE colleges have dropped engineering apprenticeships in recent years because they are relatively expensive and complex to deliver. However, by providing more of the course content remotely we can make it more economically viable while also making it easier to access, which is another way to make our industry more attractive to prospective recruits.
The potential of this new venture has already been recognised by members and we are extremely grateful for the enthusiastic support shown by our affiliate members, in particular; many of whom are providing valuable technical training materials.
We are entering a new era for our industry so let’s embrace it and grab the recruitment, training and business opportunities to lay a foundation for a more prosperous and harmonious future.
For more information go to: www.thebesa.com/ academy
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