Saturday 22 October 2016

The right moves: Brave new world for SCSI

Paul McNeive

Published 16/07/2015 | 02:30

Patricia Byron
Patricia Byron

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) is poised for a new era, embarking on a strategic review of its brand, operations and role in the property and construction industry.

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The review coincides with the appointment of Patricia Byron as the new director general, working alongside the new president of the society, Andrew Nugent. With a reputation for challenging the status quo, and delivering strategic overhauls, Ms Byron brings energy and an outside view to the role, and I met her to discuss her agenda.

Ms Byron felt that she had completed her work as CEO of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) and part of her attraction to the world of property and construction was her experience as an insurance loss adjustor, where she frequently found herself inspecting damaged buildings, co-ordinating the work of surveyors and engineers and negotiating property damage claims.

Over the coming weeks the society is set to start a "root and branch" strategic review, with the input of external consultants and Ms Byron felt this was vital to ensure that "the review is not in any way insular." "I want to see us moving away from responding to needs, to a position of leading from the front." she said.

A major priority for the review will be how to attract much more people into the profession. The property market collapse saw many professionals leave the sector and a dramatic drop in the students opting for property courses.

Whilst there was a 28pc recovery in CAO first preferences for level eight built environment courses this year, there will be a four year lag before those graduates are available to employers who are crying out for staff. The SCSI estimates that there is currently a 65pc shortage of surveying graduates, particularly on the quantity and building surveying sides.

"We need to do something innovative" said Ms Byron and she pointed out that the society had recently carried out a digi-marketing campaign directed at this year's school leavers in the run up to the last "change of mind" opportunity for CAO applications.

"We need to do more to get the message out that chartered surveying is a rewarding career, richly diverse and offers an internationally recognisable qualification. That's not readily understood" she said.

One radical suggestion favoured by the new director general is to possibly open up a "twin track" route to qualification.

The first track is to retain the current system of full time college courses but to add an "apprenticeship" route whereby school leavers would be predominantly employed in the business and would have shorter blocks of time in college.

I found this suggestion interesting as myself and a number of veterans from the 70s and 80s qualified by working full time and studying by correspondence course with the College of Estate Management in England. That difficult route was rightly shut down but I do feel that a better balanced "apprenticeship system" would be attractive to a lot of today's school leavers.

Another option is to attract graduates from other professions such as marketing, engineering and IT, again adding to the skillsets available to clients. One problem with this option is the licensing requirements of the Property Regulator and Ms Byron says that those requirements need to be reviewed as many experienced practitioners, including architects, surveyors, valuers and agents, who moved country or sector during the recession, are finding it difficult to obtain a license due to what is seen as a narrow regulatory categorisation. "These resources are urgently needed but are not being harnessed. We talk about sites being "shovel ready" she told me "but there are plenty of people who are "site ready" and who can't get working."

As Ireland's first female loss adjustor and a former president of the Insurance Institute, increasing the numbers of women in the profession will be another of her priorities, tapping into another resource pipeline for the property and construction sectors.

Ms Byron is "deeply rooted in education" and she believes that a professional body is extremely important to its members. Working closely with the SCSI president, the board and the wider membership, she is looking forward to completing the review this year and implementing it in 2016.

"We're doing lots with the "brand" but we need to more"

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