Rumford Club debate January 2017: ‘The future of professional bodies in the age of austerity – a view from the CIOB Speaker’ presented by Bridget Bartlett

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is at the heart of a management career in construction.

The CIOB is the world’s largest and most influential professional body for construction management and leadership. It has 48,000 members, spread across 113 countries and 8 offices overseas and 10 regions within the UK and Ireland. Since 1834, it has had a Royal Charter to promote the science and practice of building and construction for the benefit of society.

The CIOB accredits university degrees, educational courses and training. Its professional and vocational qualifications are considered to provide the highest level of competence and professionalism.

Bridget Bartlett gave her view of professional bodies in the age of austerity by setting the scene.

Setting the scene

–        The construction industry has a profound impact on the British economy and an even deeper effect on the lives of everyone.

–        It is central to the British economy and is pivotal in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut water and energy consumption and reduce waste.

–        It is essential for building the homes, schools, hospitals and workplaces the nation desperately needs. And the infrastructure it provides is crucial to improving the nation’s productivity.

–        Despite the great recession, construction remains one of the largest sectors of the UK economy, officially contributing around 6% of GDP and 10% of total UK employment.

–        Construction industry has been hit hard, with 400,000 job losses and one of the highest redundancy rates of any sector.

–        This boom-bust model causes uncertainty for business. And the general conditions of the economy often dictate how companies invest in training skills and innovation.

–        Large companies are run by large multi-national organisations. These large companies have chartered management accountants rather than people that understand the built environment. That changes the dynamic and changes the relationship.

–        There’s a ludicrous model in the contracting sector at present. It’s about managing risk, managing money and less about building the product.

–        And this model creates further uncertainty in the economy. Simply with a weak construction industry, will fail to adequately reshape the nation’s built environment to meet the rapidly changing challenges it faces in the coming decades.  

–        Too many young people want apprenticeships, but there are not enough places for them and not enough apprentices complete these apprenticeships.

What does this mean for our Professional Bodies?

Bartlett stated that on paper, recessions should be a nightmare for Professional Bodies.

But the reality is that a clear majority of CIOB members stick with the Professional Body: they understand the benefits of being a chartered professional.

As the market place becomes more competitive, members stick with the CIOB and understand the benefits of being in a bid to stand out from the crowd.

Thus, the CIOB regularly witnesses an increase in retention. However, Bartlett points out that attracting new members can become a challenge.

Austerity in government provides opportunities for Professional Bodies to show that they can add value to society in ways that public spending or private enterprise perhaps cannot. As previously stated, the CIOB is governed by a Royal Charter and act in the public interest. The CIOB is also a charity.  In some cases, this provides the CIOB with opportunities to come up with its own solutions and innovations, got example the CIOB Academy.

Understanding the value of professionals and Professional Bodies

Bartlett stated that the CIOB view is that we are not in an age of austerity but rather in an age of change.

This change involves the advent of new technologies in the industry, which rely on changing the types of skills. Many of these are forecast to be in managerial, technical and digital professions in the industry.

The CIOB academy offers courses around this. Bartlett highlighted: ‘courses for the industry by the industry’

Research was undertaken by the CIOB in 2015 on: “Understanding the public and policy maker’s perceptions about the value of professionalism and Professional Bodies.

The research was carried out to understand how professional bodies in the built environment, like the CIOB, are performing, given the ‘public benefit’ role given to those bodies that have Royal Charters.

The findings of this research were published in a report entitled ‘Understanding the value of professionals and professional bodies’ which it identifies 5 themes:


–        Providing professional and vocational qualifications. Professional Bodies are responsible for increasing human capital and by investing in research they promote innovation and best practice.

–        High level professional education and qualifications have developed with little to no tax payer’s money.

–        Professional Bodies have been busy for over the last 50 years in education and this provides a constant benchmark.

Social mobility:

–        The CIOB provides people access to a professional career at different stages in their lives, regardless of their of social background.

–        The construction industry has given opportunities for people to progress from trade to management.

Governance & ethics:

–        Setting and maintaining professional standards, Professional Bodies and their qualifications promote trust.

–        The CIOB Academy has developed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), freely available online from 24th January 2016.

International Development:

–        The global respect for UK laws and institutions makes the UK an attractive country to do business with, particularly amongst nations with less developed institutional frameworks.

–        Professional Bodies set the standards and qualifications that are regarded as a benchmark for excellence worldwide.

–        With the world’s population forecasted to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050 and the proportion of people living in urbanized areas growing from 54% to 60%, Bartlett points to the need of sustainable construction solutions and skills.

–        Sister bodies such as RICS, ICE, RIBA and CIBSE are spreading and increasing their international membership.


–        The public interest mandate means that professional bodies are uniquely placed to act as a ‘trusted advisor’ to Government.

–        Within the last year, the CIOB has undertaken research into migration, modern slavery and the ageing population to help inform the debate on these key issues.

–        The modern slavery debate has taken the CIOB from dialogue with stakeholders as diverse as Amnesty International, Qatari government officials and the Home Office right the way to eradicate the illegal trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable people in the industry.

Bartlett proudly highlighted the fact that the CIOB’s work has led to the development of a toolkit to support industry and improve the welfare of workers.

Bridget Bartlett finished on a poignant question.

The value of professional bodies can only really be gauged when we consider a world without them. While they are not perfect, who would fill the gap if they were not there?

‘This is a great industry. The buildings and infrastructure that we create last for generations and affect the quality of life for so many people. But the only way we’re going to fully communicate the importance of construction and the built environment to policy makers and the public at large is through Professional Bodies collaborating with both government and industry. The CIOB works with several other Professional Bodies on an arrange of issues mentioned in my speech but more can be done to join up the public interest.

A question was proposed by a Rumford member to Bridget at the end of the talk. They have both allowed the question and answer to be included in the blog.

Q: The CITB is a huge organisation which has been around a long time. Is the model broken, can it change or can it be re-invented?

A: The CITB and the ECTIB are monolithic organisations. There are a lot of people there and things like pension liabilities would need to be considered in any structural reform. Paul Morrell has done a report on it and a consultation took place 3 ½ years ago, and it found it must be re-designed under new leadership.

Bartlett stated that for her, the model has been broken for years. There are too many conflicting interests. But CIOB has met with Paul and he would be happy to discuss the matter with anyone to progress this issue.