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The role of the professional in the building industry in a developing or underdeveloped nation


Canute Edd Spencer, FRICS, FCI Arb, MRSH
Email: [email protected]

In attempting to write an article on this subject, one must first define the term “professional in the building industry”, “developing and underdeveloped nation” and perhaps one must also explain why “in the building industry”, are they the only professionals with a contribution
to make?

Last things first, given that I am practicing in the building industry as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor (otherwise known as a Construction Cost Consultant I have been exposed and involved to this industry for many years. Because of my “tenure”, experiences and encounters throughout the years, I believe that I have developed a keen understanding of the subject matter. Equally important is my belief that I cannot or should not attempt to comment on other professionals (e.g. doctors and lawyers) since I believe that there are enough of them to speak for themselves. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the building industry is the latest recognizable innovation for developing an underdeveloped country.

In my youth, the favored professions were medicine, law and religion. Engineering ran low on the required professional charts as too Architects, we still prefer to use Draftsmen not recognizing the difference, even at the so called sophisticated society social level. Interestingly, the only surveyor known in Trinidad at the time was the Land Surveyor (or “Severere” as locally pronounced).

When I arrived in England in 1959 to pursue Quantity Surveying, it was only then that I realized that there were Land Surveyors, Building Surveyors, Valuation Surveyors, Housing Surveyors, Planning Surveyors and Quantity Surveyors, all of equal importance to and in the building industry.

After completing my studies, I believed (as I do today) that our first responsibility as returning professionals is to educate our society as to our function(s) as well as the limitations imposed upon our efficiency by the sheer circumstances of practicing in an underdeveloped country. For
example, pricing a construction project depends upon an efficient system of collecting data, once the system relied upon is flawed; no amount of qualification on your part can produce correct results.

To be successful, the professional in the building industry (Architect, Engineer or whatever type of construction professional) must consider education as his priority; education of the general public, the various stakeholders within the building industry and the business and financial sectors of our society who should most benefit from our contribution, i.e. mortgagers and financiers. Our role as an educator goes beyond educating the public generally, we are also responsible for the understanding of our fellow professionals with whom we are called upon to work and produce effectively. Specialists are trained to practice within the normal daily purview of their training. In an effort to reduce or even eliminate conflict with their lesser qualified or educated colleagues they must therefore educate themselves and their colleagues on standard practices and new developments as much as possible. With this degree of sharing, the various professionals and even their professions develop daily.

Another important aspect of our education is that of research in local techniques especially since in construction one must apply and understand the theory for its application. For instance in my Construction II class, we were required to provide the solution to a certain construction problem. Out of a class of thirty odd students, only one person produced the right answer, a Trinidadian student who had some experience in the construction industry at home. When asked how he was able to solve the problem, his only answer was “Trinidad construction boy!” However, I always recall that whatever he learnt was correctly learnt and successfully applied away from the English construction climate. In our role as educators, we must also be mentors to our young graduates and craftsmen. This task is easier said than done since many of our consultants are so bent on earning a living that they are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices towards training their locals. Consequently, at the local level we have a list of skilled artisans whose skills are acquired by on the job “pick up” training, which is adequate for some jobs locally but only thus far.

Apart from education, research into our entire building industry, within the Caribbean is also vital to our success. Many years ago, some of us started compiling statistics (on labourers, concrete works, formwork etc.) to apply to the pricing items in the construction industry. However we were advised that this exercise was a waste of time or an exercise in futility since no one would either read or apply it. Sadly, we heeded the negative advice and today we have no statistics on what to base realistic pricing in the industry. In order to emphasize my point that research in local phenomenon, theorized and put in academic form can be the basis of theorizing our local industry for the application of local solution(s) to local problems, consider another example; the ITCA did a complete research study on every type of wood in Trinidad eg. cheynette, mango, cedar etc. identifying all physical characteristics and evaluating its uses, however although this research lies somewhere in our archives, few people know of its existence. Maybe, as professionals we also need to develop some system to prevent knowledge from being lost from lack of use (which could result in the said research being redone) and maintained in some permanent manner.

My era of returnees bombarded every financial institute eg. lending agencies and the general public with quantity surveying  formation. Our approach included our fellow professionals i.e. Architects, Engineers and any other group involved in planning and organizing any aspect of the industry. As a result, today we have a much more knowledgeable cadre of building professionals who should now be more efficient in servicing the general public and financial sector. However our responsibility as professionals does not end here.

Our next challenge is to replace external examinations such as City and Guilds, Clerk of Works examinations, Institute of Builders etc. with similar local programmes which are overseen by local examining board consisting of our professionals who would have designed and compiled the syllabus.

Finally, professionals must reflect a high level of integrity in not only their everyday conduct but in their professional demeanor and practice. We must earn the respect of our community both professionally and generally. Dignity is not handed to you because you are a professional. You must earn it by your general conduct and all its members must be a party and comply with the necessary requirement. Having been a member of the building industry for nearly 50 years, I strongly believe that professionals in developing countries must:

a. Educate the public and their fellow professionals as to their function.
b. Train not only your fellow professionals but all the subsidiaries in your field. It is an investment well made.
c. Conduct research in all aspects of your profession so that one’s performance and its basis must be recorded to be in a form to be passed on and
d. Finally, strive to achieve integrity in both general and professional behaviour.

When we have developed a culture of knowledge sharing and mentoring, issues like research and development as well as professional development progress naturally finally resulting in the growth and development of the building industry.

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