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I last wrote an opinion piece for Construction Manager some five years ago on the subject of quality in construction.
At that time, I may have been ahead of the curve; it was in 2015, before the problems of poor quality construction of Scottish schools were revealed in 2016 and the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017. How times have changed: quality in construction is now on top of the agenda and quite rightly so.
In my experience of inspecting and surveying buildings, I often found it was the more recent work that was at fault for quality rather than original construction. In managing many projects I also witnessed the difficulty in achieving the required quality standards.
If we join the dots, we can see the obvious link between quality and skills, and if we go further we can see the influence that these have on the health, safety and wellbeing of society – and also climate change.
Regulatory reform is long overdue and it’s pleasing to see this is now taking place. However, unless we have the right skillset at all stages, from design to implementation, we will struggle to ensure that any regulatory reform intended to improve standards and quality will be consistently implemented.
The climate change challenge means that we will have to make better use of existing buildings and not construct so many new ones. Those involved, therefore, need to have better skillsets in how to work with existing buildings. At the craft end we currently only teach those activities involved in new construction, so this needs to change.
The need for high skill levels and accuracy is essential, and craftspeople need not just understand what tasks they’ve got to do to reach the required standards, but also understand the implications of not achieving them. Craft apprenticeships need to be longer and more comprehensive, to include education and not just task activities. Those undertaking the design need to properly understand how to improve and adapt existing buildings.
Deploying the requisite knowledge and skills is so important that it should be part of regulatory reform. Perhaps this is where the licensing of individuals and companies comes in, backed by robust competency certification schemes supported by training in areas where knowledge and skill improvements are needed.
Professor John Edwards is director of Edwards Hart Consultants and professor of practice at University of Wales Trinity St David (and Construction Wales Innovation Centre)