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Pauline Hall worked as a lecturer, trainer and consultant with the Irish public service, and many international bodies. She is the author of several distance learning programmes on management development, and the co-author of a book Agents of Change. She was nominated by the Housing Agency to the Board of the Construction Industry Register Ireland in 2016.
Response to change
‘You cannot step in the same river twice, for the waters are continually flowing on.’ Heraclitus. C. 500 B.C.
This observation by an ancient philosopher about the inescapable reality of change applies to the Irish construction industry, which is currently challenged to respond appropriately to a changing business environment. Appropriate response must match the environment which contains both challenge and opportunity, so companies need to, and will benefit from, increasing their awareness of risk and their capacity to proactively respond. One important way to do this is to set up robust programmes of development for individuals, teams and the company.
Programmes under the broad umbrella of Continuous Professional Development, (CPD), offer great potential to equip companies to respond appropriately, even thrive, in change. CPD is learning that enhances a person’s existing occupational, technical and professional competence, in a process of life-long-learning. The key words here are ’enhances’–CPD builds on the skills, knowledge and experience that people already have, and ‘process’–CPD is cyclical, not a one -off event.
CPD benefits individuals because, as David Megginson says, ‘It is no longer possible to do all your learning at the start of your career and then spend the rest of your working life using what you have learned.’ Research into adult learning suggests that the great part (up to 80%) of our learning arises
-from what we need to learn, (e.g to solve problems)
-from working with others and
-from reflecting afterwards on our experience (otherwise experience is merely repeated and learning is not applied in a new or different situation)
The CIRI CPD process allows for the mobilisation of all these aspects of learning within a framework of consistent standards, all supporting high quality, up to date and relevant practice.
Current trends are to make more flexible and less rigid, the distinction between formal education and informal development activities. CPD combines formal and informal approaches, connecting learning to actual work. It is important for companies to explicitly commit to arrangements for CPD, by way of their CIRI CPD plan. However, the philosophy of CPD also emphasises a readiness to identify and use opportunities that arise spontaneously in every day work situations and an appreciation of how people are often engaged informally in CPD without necessarily using the term.
As a mandatory element of the registration process, led by Construction Industry Regulation Ireland, (CIRI), CPD is a central part of the service to construction companies provided by the Construction Industry Registration Board (CIRB). CIRI supports construction companies in engaging in a mandatory process that involves planning, delivery and recording of training for staff at all levels within small, medium and large companies. The programmes are delivered in a structured fashion, targeted to enable the company to address areas of risk, both for them and for the consumer. Risks stem from legislative (e.g. Health & Safety & Welfare at Work) regulatory, (e.g BC(A)R), technological (e.g BIM) and organisational (awareness of staff development as a central management function) factors.
Over and above the compliance needed for registration with CIRI, companies can benefit from actively embracing CPD. The practice of CPD is a long-established method to maintain and raise standards for members of representative professional bodies for example, RIAI, IEI, SCSI. The supervisory role of senior to junior is not new, but rather established good practice across the construction industry. Over time, a progressive adoption of CPD– at all levels from Director to Manager, to Supervisor, to Craft Worker and General Operative– will accelerate increasing professionalisation. Professionalism will be demonstrated by commitment to ethical practice (as outlined in the CIRI Code of Ethics and the general principles that follow from it), which needs to explicitly inform the entire CPD programme. Pursuit of professionalism also promotes positive attitudes towards regulators, colleagues, suppliers and clients. A sustained commitment to putting this Code of Ethics into practice will help to renew confidence on the part of clients of construction services, of whatever scale or type. A renewal of credibility among consumers is particularly timely as the Irish construction industry is again in a phase of growth, which offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate convincingly that past lapses belong in the past. Instances of poor professional practice and substandard service have been well publicised. A more professional approach will highlight how these are not acceptable.
‘What’s in it for us?’
The short answer is that evidence of planning, delivering and recording CPD is a mandatory requirement for registration under CIRI. CIRI Registration will in turn be mandatory for construction companies to operate in the market place when the Building Control (Construction Industry Register Ireland). Bill 2017 becomes law.
A longer answer would point to the changed and changing environment of the industry, where particularly the areas of
–Building Regulations and Building Control Regulations are ever more stringently monitored,
–Safety health and welfare are subject to dynamic evolution,
–Technology and innovation are changing the operations of the industry, and
–Business and management expertise is increasingly required to steer the future direction of construction companies.
The above (in bold) are the four pillars of focus for CIRI CPD. Because companies have no option but to engage in CPD, the requirement to commit scarce resources of time, budget and expertise to drawing up, delivering, recording and reviewing a systematic CPD plan for all employees will undoubtedly seem onerous. This is particularly true of the second year of the CPD cycle, and for smaller companies. As the Chinese symbol for change illustrates, change involves opportunity as well as threat. Depending on how it is introduced and worked, once CPD is embedded as part of ’the way we do things’, it can help to add value and secure competitive advantage- in the short term by updating and clarifying existing procedures and keeping staff up to date. In the medium term, there is potential to increase the range of skills and the rate of acquisition within the company, reduce turnover, and maximise performance.
CPD, self-development and career progression
The priority given to the four pillars also reflects another powerful influence in the construction environment. Current high levels of growth- and therefore of competition- in the industry pose a challenge for companies to attract and retain talent. Both inside and outside of the established professions and crafts, CPD is identified with individuals’ options to undertake self-development as a way of progressing their careers. Employers are increasingly taking on responsibility to resource and support CPD as part of a new contract between company and employee. Given increasingly professionalism within the construction sector, those managing their career at different stages will increasingly expect and value this kind of contract. For example, the portfolio career described by Charles Handy outlines how knowledge, skills and experience can be kept fresh and transferable to new opportunities. His approach is oriented to individuals (typically working in white collar occupations) who aim to increase their options and prospects by taking control of their own career development. The common denominators of both traditional CPD and the new portfolio version, is that
-both are aimed at developing employees beyond the competence derived from their initial qualification,
-both need to be a priority for managers and regarded as a central management function, not just a tag on to other processes, and
-both include both formal and informal methods.
In addition, the CPD mandated for CIRI registration
– is the responsibility of the company,
-lays an emphasis on inputs and outputs (compliance with pre-programmed training courses,) and
-is essentially pragmatic.
Because companies have no option but to engage in CPD, they will do well to identify potential benefit– how CPD can enhance their capacity for high performance in a tough competitive environment, especially with regard to
-innovation and team working,
-nimble responses to demands for quality from designers, clients and regulatory agencies,
-new equipment and methods,
-the potential of IT for design, materials and logistics,
-consumer confidence and market credibility
-environmental responsibility and control,
How to do CPD?
The CPD process developed and administered by the CRI CPD Office
In CIRI’s approach, a company formalises its interest in, and commitment to, CPD through its CPD Plan. A CPD plan stems from the particular needs and risks- internal and external- that the company faces. To conform to CIRI specifications, plans need to be capable of being evaluated, therefore they need to
-focus on the four pillars (see p. 3)
-plan, record and verify CPD activities
-target the whole company
-show CPD points based on learning hours prescribed for each level
-ideally include both individual and group interactive activities
Successful delivery of CPD
CPD is targeted at the whole company, vertically and horizontally integrated, with the content and process of training matched to different levels and roles of staff. CIRI policy emphasises that CPD is not something separate from work, to be undertaken when managers have a spare moment, or a reward on occasions when they have finished more important tasks. Acknowledging that this approach is to an extent something new for the construction industry, CIRI provides support and resources in the form of modules, templates and pro forma documents. CIRI is also concerned to devise methods for reviewing and keeping up the momentum on the roll-out of CPD, as existing needs of both companies and consumers are met, and new ones arise.
Mindful of the pressures on time, budget and expertise, for companies already hard-pressed, CIRI provides specified targets for CPD, and a range of approaches that can be utilised depending on which structured learning activities e.g
-demos by suppliers
— technical paper
– journal article
and unstructured learning activities e.g.
-mentoring or being mentored
– coaching or being coached,
– job shadowing
– serving on committees/ task forces/webgroups
-lunchtime team talks
-debriefing after a significant event,
Such activities are inputs that generate outputs (e.g. certificates of completion, record of attendance, evaluations, formal or informal feedback). This is cyclical: outputs from one programme in turn feed into new inputs for the next. The extent to which inputs produce outputs is a measure of efficiency, which is audited under the CIRI procedure. However, the evaluation of inputs versus outputs will add greater value and deliver higher order information if companies also gather evidence of outcomes, which are typically broader and more long-term (enhanced capacity, adoption of newer or improved practice, development of more strategic approaches). Attitudinal change can make staff more effective, and as a result, managers may encounter fewer problems into the future.
Characteristics of Irish Construction companies
There is a saying that one’s strength is ones’ weakness, and one’s weakness one’s strength. Studies of the Irish construction industry have noted that companies are strongly project-driven. typically, their main strength. Yet the one-off nature of this way of working, can lead to a weakness, in that learning is not always captured, reused or transferred. Often issues are dealt with retrospectively, repairing rather than preventing defects. CPD offers the promise of compensating for weakness without diluting strength, by aiming for long-term effects that can be company-wide and not specific to any one project. These characteristics need not be barriers to the adoption of CPD, but it is realistic to acknowledge that long-standing industry and company culture need to be explicitly taken into account, and actively utilised. Given patience and persistence by leaders, new norms and new narratives will emerge. Initially, it may well seem uncomfortable and counter-cultural for companies that are both technically driven and hierarchically structured, (up to now, sources of strength) to adopt a company-wide approach. Such a shift means supplementing project management skills with the skills of general management. However, there is potential benefit in beginning to move towards this more entrepreneurial approach. What is measured gets attention, so the requirement to comply with CIRI CPD may be also an opportunity to factor staff development into everyday management. It calls for judgement to align and integrate CPD (whether delivered in-house, on-site or externally,) with the ongoing work programme.
The CIRI policy states that CPD needs to be of high quality and fit for purpose, not merely tokenistic, (‘box-ticking’) or a simple accumulation of individual CPD already undertaken. It acknowledges that there is a learning process also at company level in becoming more familiar and confident with implementing CPD, and, especially, rooting it in the distinctive environment of large and small construction companies. Random and targeted CPD audits by CIRI will be initially based on hard copy, and ultimately on soft (electronic) records, and should help to bring home the importance of tracking what actually happened in a given setting. Following completion of a few cycles, companies will undoubtedly influence the process in a dialogue with CIRI. CIRI is ready to play its part in partnership, to embed this potentially exciting and positive process with benefit for all of those involved in, dependent on, or affected by the construction industry. That means virtually all of us.
Pauline Hall, CIRI Board Member.