Address to the public hearing on the ‘COUNCIL FOR THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT BILL’ and its seven complementary bills

    Bob Hindle MSc, FCIOB, AIC, MSAIB
    Senior Lecturer, Department of Construction Economics & Management
    University of Cape Town
    Presented 15:15 hrs 6 June 2000

INTRODUCTORY OUTLINE

Despite that which is intended by the architects of these Acts, there are a number of other ‘far-reaching’ effects that cause them to have a major impact on the whole construction delivery process, a process that is in disrepute. It is for these reasons that I appeal to you to reconsider these new Acts and to abandon the idea of any form of intervention that offers the professions ‘position’ and ‘protection’.

THE PROFESSIONS IN PERSPECTIVE

One needs to stand-back from this proposed legislation to understand my arguments and to ask:

1. What are the Governments broad objectives, across the suite of policy initiatives that various Departments have motivated, that are concerned with the performance of the construction sector?

  • Job creation, skills development and community involvement.
  • Promotion of the previously disadvantaged, removal of barriers to entry.
  • Improving the efficiency and productivity of the industry (value for money)
  • Developing public sector capacity

2. Consider too those most critical defects in the traditional construction delivery system:

  • Its lack of leadership
  • The degree of ‘fragmentation’ which creates fatal problems such as:
    • lack of co-operation
    • lack of communication
    • lack of co-ordination
  • Its hierarchal social structure
  • Its inappropriate traditional delivery model (procurement system)
  • The confrontational and litigious approach to contracting
  • The fact that it does not offer value for money

3. Who was in charge of the delivery process during the period when it gained this reputation?

4. How many professions do you know of, that control and industrial process?

To stand even further back from the issue – to understand why we support the model of organisation known as the ‘professions’. In the social science body of knowledge, where the study of organisational forms is undertaken, the professions are well understood. The development of professions is seen to be nothing more than a minority groups’ quest to dominate and control bodies of knowledge, and access to markets, in a monopolistic way. (Larson 1977, Abbot 1988, Perkin 1989) Macdonald (1995:29) summarised the work of several researchers offered a diagram to demonstrate ‘the professional project’, which can be seen in Fig.1. He described one body of opinion thus:

… the point to emphasise here is that as developed by those writers, social closure is one of the most important means by which the professional project is pursued, and constitutes the conceptual counterpart to Larson’s model. The occupation and its organisation attempts to close access to the occupation. To its knowledge, to its education, training and credentials and to its markets in services and in jobs; only ‘eligibles’ will be admitted. In so doing it may well exclude those of a particular race, gender or religion and thus play a part in the structured inequality of society. Exclusion is aimed not only at the attainment and maintenance of monopoly, but also at the usurpation of the existing jurisdiction of others and at the upward social mobility of the whole group.

Abbott (1988:118) dealt with one aspect concerning the behaviour of the ‘professions’, which has significance when considering the ‘built environment professions’. He described a phenomenon, which he named ‘professional regression’. A phenomenon, through which professions withdraw into themselves, away from the task for which they claim public jurisdiction. Pursuit of their ideals often leads to a situation where they are not prepared to soil themselves with non-professional matters. In this regard he gave an example based upon architects.

Since professionals draw their self-esteem more from their own world than from the public’s, this status mechanism gradually withdraws entire professions into the purity of their own worlds. The front-line service that is both their fundamental task and their basis for legitimacy becomes the province of low-status colleagues and para professionals. Abbott (1988:119)

He observed that the process of professional regression is irreversible, even under threat. They will react by resisting change and finding other ways to defend and control their territorial domain.

Placeholder image

[Figure 1. A working theory of the professions: a conceptual outline. Source Macdonald (1995)]

The result of all of this has been a total neglect of process development, in construction delivery terms, by the built environment professions. For a hundred years or more, the professions have enforced the same method of delivery.

If this statement were true one would expect to find evidence to show that its procedures are thought to be inappropriate. Construction literature is full of such derogatory references, terms such as, “enmeshed in an outworn pattern of organisation”. (Bowley 1966) and “a shambling phenomenon”, (Groak, 1983) “unlike other capitalist industries, the infant construction industry failed to develop into a mature, technically-advanced, late-twentieth-century industry”. (Ball 1988:23) are often used.

CHANGE

Ball (1988) asked why economic forces had not changed the structure and procedures of the industry (p.33). He partially answered this himself, (p.59) “social constraints imposed by the contracting system have limited the ability of building contractors to initiate changes in technique and organisation”. Indeed, this is my primary argument, it is a direct result of the fact that the professions hold a position of privilege, supported by statute, that is preventing industry development.

SUMMARY

To this point I have put forward arguments that show:

  • The construction delivery process is ‘backward’
  • The organisation known as ‘profession’ is flawed
  • That the supposed leaders of the process are not effective
  • That despite their lack of effectiveness they are supported by Government, through Acts that are effective barriers to innovation, development and change.

OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

GLOBALISATION and IT

We are in an age of massive and continuous change. Change that is driven by advances in Information Technology (IT) and is demonstrated by phenomenon such as the E-commerce and that termed ‘Globalization’. Beyond this we have seen the impact of IT on employment practice, huge numbers of employees are rendered obsolete as new software is written and used to perform the tasks of those employees in more cost effective ways. At first it was the menial tasks that were emulated but, increasingly, it is the more technical tasks that are being emulated.

Whilst it is said that the impact of IT has not yet been felt in construction, it is clear that the built environment professions are severely threatened by such advances. One of the first to be impacted has been Land Surveyors whose numbers are declining because one individual can now undertake the work of several, through the use of automated instrumentation and global satellite imaging and GPS. Town and regional planning will be similarly affected whilst architect and engineers are learning how to cope with Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Quantity Surveyors with Computer Aided Measurement (CAM). Both of the latter are in their infancy and we are on the threshold of major improvements as software architects begin the process of integration, (until now each specialist task has been emulated, they are now beginning to link and leap them, making innovative improvements as they go).

One of the less obvious impacts of IT advances is the fact that it cuts through hierarchies, (we communicate PC to PC regardless of the titles of the users). It has promoted the use of a single business language, devoid of the protective terms that each professions uses as a means to keep the layperson out. Another aspect is that our children are able to do things tha t took us half a life-time achieve. Young people (indeed, anyone) are able to access software that contains systems and procedures that were once the protected turf of a given profession. People who were not formally trained in a profession are able to undertake the tasks of members of the profession, often much more quickly and cheaper than the profession could dream of. Unless the professions change they too will become obsolete!

OTHER MODELS

Consider what is happening in other countries, in regard to the built-environment professions. Non are pursuing this strategy. Most do not have protective legislation, those that did have are experiencing a trend to repeal the Acts. If one were then to enquire in to why this is so, you would find that the motivation is coming from the professions themselves. They have found that the Acts have become an hindrance to business development, particularly when these Acts specify a given ratio of registered members that are allowed to be partners in a given practice, or when the services offered are not those supported by the specific profession.

Why would a group of educated people, who have developed a set of skills that are saleable, wish to ask the Government to recognise them by promulgating an Act? Perhaps, for reasons of status, or could it be to ‘corner a market’? A typical response from the professions would be, “to protect the public from charlatans”. This is a ‘hangover’ from seventeenth-century Europe when only the few were educated and were placed apart from the commoners. Today’s clients and customers are educated and are likely to say “just give us the widest possible choice, and a number of options, and we will decide what is good for us”. Legislation in the form of Acts that regulate and protect the professions also encourage them to become overconfident and complacent. The Financial Mail (1992) referred to them as ‘cosy cartels’ because of this protection and over-confidence.

PROLIFERATION and CONGESTION

This suite of Acts promise to ‘establish’ two new professions and this is likely to exacerbate the problems described above. Foster (1990) commented on the fact that there are over twenty professional institutions, each jostling for position from which to charge a fee in the construction process. One can imagine how difficult it is to convince so many differing professions to focus on the needs of construction customers. The effect is one, which Hindle (1998c) described as ‘professional congestion’ a phenomenon which acts as an intricate barrier to innovation and co-operation.

CONCLUSIONS

The Built Environment Professions Bills will have the effect of working against the broader Government construction delivery objectives.

Governments support of the Built Environment Professions and the various Acts that protect individual professions, are the primary cause of the lack of process innovation and development of the construction industry and process.

If the Government hopes to improve construction delivery through intervention, the most effective way would be to abandon the proposed Built Environment Professions Bills and to repeal the current Acts.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abbott, A (1988) The System of Professions: An Essay on the division of Expert Labour, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, page 118.

Ball, M (1988) Rebuilding Construction: economic change in the British Construction Industry, Routledge.

Bowley, M (1966) The British Building Industry: four studies in response and resistance to change, Cambridge, 1966.

Financial Mail (1992) Attacking the cosy cartels, Financial Mail, August 7, p73.

Foster, C. Sir (1990) Construction: Restructure to Win, Memo to the NEDC Construction Industry Sector Group, National Economic Development Council, 19 December, pp.21.

Groak, S. (1983) Building Processes and Technological Choice, Habitat International, Vol.7, No.5/6, pp.357-366.

Higgin, GW and Jessop, N (1965) Communications in the Building Industry – The Report of a Pilot Study, Tavistock Publications, London.

Hindle, R.D. (1996) Do we need the `professions’? Project Pro, March, pp.29-30, SA.

Hindle, RD (1997) Two Construction Industry Characteristics that are Hindering its Development, Proceedings of 1st International Conference On Construction Industry Development, National University of Singapore, 9-11 December 1997, pp 324-331.

Hindle, RD (1998a) Response to the Green Paper: Creating an Enabling Environment for Reconstruction, Growth and Development in the Construction Industry, January 1998, published on the CIDB web site.

Hindle, RD (1998b) What is wrong with the construction industry? The Civil Engineering & Building Contractor, May.

Hindle, RD (1998c) The professions… following the path of the dinosaurs, a two part paper in ProjectPro, July, pp20-21 and September 40-41.

Hindle, RD Rwelamila, PD (1998): Resistance to Change: Architectural Education in a Turbulent Environment, Engineering Construction and Architectural Management, September.

Larson, MS (1977) The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis, university of California Press.

Lewis, J and Cheetham, DW (1993) The historical roots of current problems in building procurement, in proceedings of ARCOM 9th Annual Conference, Oxford, Sept, pp. 50-61.

Macdonald, K (1995) The Sociology of the Professions, Sage Publications, London.

Perkin, H (1989) The Rise of Professional Society: England since 1880, Routledge, London.

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