In our series of head to heads, new members of professional institutes put tough questions to their leaders. Here, Andrew Link asks Michael Brown, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building, about the old boys’ network and why anyone should join the CIOB

The man with the questions

Andrew Link is a project manager for Bovis Lend Lease. He graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2000 with a BSc in construction management. His degree was accredited by the CIOB, and he became a full member in 2005 after gaining some professional experience.

He is a member of Building’s graduate advisory board.

The man with the answers

Michael Brown is deputy chief executive of the CIOB, with particular responsibility for policy and international. He graduated in building in 1970 and worked for a London contractor before taking five years out to work for Voluntary Service Overseas. He later moved to the Polytechnic of Central London, becoming head of the School of Construction, Housing and Surveying.

AL Why would a young professional want to join the CIOB? What does it give them that they can't get elsewhere?

MB Okay, I’m going to take a step back and talk about what a professional institution is. We are a public benefit organisation with our royal Charter and a charity, so we are primarily there for the public interest.

AL Not for member interest?

MB We are there for member interest but we’re primarily there for the public, like the Law Society or the General Medical Council. The majority of our members say the most important thing they get from us is a professional qualification.

So we should be doing everything we can to enhance that professional recognition. It’s made up of three things: academic achievement, assessment of competence and a commitment to lifelong learning and ethical standards. If we have a member reported to us, we take that very seriously – members get thrown out every year.

AL So if professional recognition is the top thing on the list, why should people choose the CIOB over an organisation like the RICS, where the professional qualification may have more value?

MB When bodies like the CIOB and RICS first receive their royal charters, there’s very much a black line around the scope of the institute. Over time, you’ve got the blurring of roles within the industry. The CIOB has chosen to focus on construction management and I don't think any of the other institutes have the same emphasis on management that we do.

AL In a lot of construction roles, professional qualifications aren’t a priority, though.

MB It’s important to have professionalism in the industry. We’re a long way away from having saturation in the industry, not just of the CIOB, but of professionalism. I find increasingly that when jobs are advertised, professional qualifications are mentioned. But you hear of companies telling people not to use professional qualifications on their business cards because they don’t need that kind of differentiation. I find that tragic because it can add value to what a company’s doing.

AL So once you’ve left university, got your qualification and found your ideal job, why should you renew your membership? What are the continuing benefits apart from networking opportunities?

MB The problem with academic qualifications is that they have a shelf life. I graduated in 1970 with a degree in building. I don’t think there’s very much of relevance in that degree to today’s industry. Professional qualifications, on the other hand, should mean that you’re up to date and competent as a person.

AL So are there further interviews down the road to make sure you’re on top of the industry as it changes?

MB There are no interviews at the moment, but we do have the commitment of individuals to continuing professional development. There is a loose measure – we do ask for a proportion of members’ records of CPD every year and we have thrown people out who have not given them to us. There is an issue about whether we should interview people more often – I’m not sure that interviews are the best way, but perhaps there should be some more rigorous assessment. Though I’m not sure the construction industry would readily accept it.

AL What type of members does the CIOB look to attract among graduates or young professionals?

MB We have traditionally had a focus on the construction management course, but that’s broadened significantly now. We’re willing to attract people from a range of construction disciplines and beyond. We decided to broaden access when the industry began talking about integrating teams, and there was concern that professional institutions created silos. We felt we had to break that mould. So you’ll find lawyers and accountants in the CIOB. You’ll certainly find surveyors, architects, engineers and people who’ve done undergraduate courses in management.

AL Who comes up with the CPD programme? Whenever I get sent things, it’s always about the same topics: Part L, CDM … People joining the industry want to know how to get on and there’s a lot more emphasis now on soft skills that universities don’t cater for.

MB We do have a programme of courses run centrally but most are organised by our branch network, by members for members. Sadly, I agree with you – often it is limited. But the reason why those topics are continually there is that people seem to want them. We do survey our members and those are the ones that draw people in. You’re looking at London – I think there may have been a tendency in London but not everywhere.

AL The CIOB is seen as a bit of an old boys’ network. What are you doing to change that?

MB It’s partly to do with the structure. At the moment, you’ve got the council – the trustees of the institution – who are all members. There’s a large chunk who’ve come through the regional structure to become chairs. Then we have a staff structure with a chief executive, deputy chief executive and about 100 people, including regional and international staff. They have to deliver the council’s policy.

This structure is very much part of the past, it’s about time served, being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people. That’s not how the industry works these days, it’s about delivery.

During the summer, all members will be polled about a new constitution and bylaws. We’re likely to have 16-18 trustees; we currently have about 50. We see big changes happening, moving beyond the old boys’ network to a leaner, meaner organisation.

In future, we will fill key posts by advertising to the membership at large so anyone can put their names forward.

AL Are any women represented on the council?

MB Unfortunately, the CIOB reflects the rest of the industry and there are only about two women out of 50 council members. That’s 4%, not so far from the average on undergraduate degree courses. We do want to see more women in the industry.

We have been working on something called a graduate development programme. We have a two-year conversion programme for graduates from any discipline and 25% of them are women. At that age, more women are choosing to go into construction. At a craft level, there are very few self-respecting 16-year-old women who say they want to come into the construction industry. By the time they’re 21, 22 or 23, they may have changed their view of that. We’re looking at expanding that programme; it’s full at the moment.

AL My course was accredited by the CIOB, but it made little contact with students. Why not?

MB There’s certainly a need there and we are embarking on an internal project to see what more we can do for students. What often happens is that graduates don’t become members, it’s people in their late 20s. So we’ve got to focus on that gap to see how we can be more beneficial to students to help their careers develop.