Productivity, social mobility and skills shortages are some of the most pressing economic challenges the UK currently faces.
They are complex issues, requiring action from both policy makers and industry, and, most importantly, collaboration between the two.
Making progress in all of these areas, and many others, are the professional bodies that set ethical and educational standards for their industries, build trust with the public and inform government on how to facilitate growth and create jobs.
While they offer invaluable guidance and support to their sector and the individuals who work within it, their role is often overlooked and undervalued.
This is why the world’s largest and most influential professional body for construction management and leadership, the Chartered Institute of Building, is drawing attention to the contribution these organisations make and asking how they can do even more in the future.
Its latest report, Understanding the value of professionals and professional bodies, which will be launched at the Conservative and Labour party conferences, identifies the key areas in which they make a difference.
For CIOB’s Senior Vice President Paul Nash, now is the time to raise the profile of this issue among parliamentarians, with a view to building more productive relationships.
He says: “There is a lot of change happening in the industry at large at the moment. This report sets out to explain the role of professionals working in the built environment and the professional bodies that represent them, and to highlight the value that they bring to the UK economy.”
The report sought the opinions of 2,000 members of the public and over 150 MPs, in order to gain an insight into the perception of professional bodies and the value that they create.
“We wanted to use that to think of ways that we could then improve the value that we deliver for the economy and for society,” Mr Nash says.
The report focuses on five key areas of productivity, social mobility, governance and ethical standards, international development and policy.
Promoting a better understanding of the contribution organisations like the CIOB make in these areas is the central objective, as well as gaining much needed attention.
This is why the report concentrates on subjects that are relevant to decision makers, such as addressing the UK’s poor productivity levels, which the Chancellor George Osborne has previously described as “the challenge of our time”.
Mr Nash identifies the role professional bodies can play here, saying: “One of the challenges with the whole issue around productivity, is that it is a very difficult thing to measure. One of the things that we do as a professional body, which helps in this area, is promoting best practice and investing in research. We are always looking at ways to improve human capital in the industry.”
The role the organisations play in improving social mobility is also misunderstood, he adds.
“I think the perception among a lot of MPs is that professional bodies don’t do enough to promote social mobility, but actually the CIOB is very good at doing this.
“Many of our members have come from a trade background and moved into management and our emphasis on education and qualifications allow people to do that. So, this is just one area which shows how valuable professional bodies are to the economy and to the public.”
For the construction industry, there is the specific challenge of a skills shortage which needs urgent attention, and requires an informed dialogue between the sector and Parliament.
In dealing with this and other issues, Mr Nash is also seeking to work more closely with other professional bodies, enabling the industry to speak with a collective voice.
“I am really passionate about looking at ways that we can collaborate more closely with the other professional bodies,” he says.
“One of the things I have become very aware of is that we need to find a way – particularly when dealing with government – to talk with one voice. At the moment it is just too fragmented.
“We can’t tackle all the issues, so we have got to choose the ones which we think can have the biggest impact for the industry. Skills shortages is probably one of the most pressing issues, as is social mobility.”
The CIOB Senior Vice President understands the need for social mobility on both a professional and a personal level, having experienced the benefits of it firsthand.
He joined the construction industry at eighteen and in his first encounter with the CIOB was encouraged to continue his education and improve his career prospects by undertaking a post-graduate qualification.
When asked what he has gained from being part of a professional body, he says: “Opportunity is the first word that comes to mind. I never imagined when I left school at eighteen that a career in construction would take me where I am today.”
For Mr Nash the value of these organisations is obvious, and in the coming weeks and months he hopes that policy makers will see it as well.