The Joint Contracts Tribunal has been calling for an educated workforce - if only to keep them out of trouble

Many of the disputes that arise in our industry are caused by gaps in the participants’ education and training. Not only do craft persons build, architects design and quantity surveyors calculate cost; they need to do much more and indeed understand much more. Greater understanding of supply chain processes in a rapidly changing marketplace is necessary in order:

  • to appreciate how it can operate more effectively;
  • to understand the obligations and liabilities under the contractual arrangements, not just one’s own liabilities but those of others in the supply chain as they may impact elsewhere;
  • to understand the payment process and to understand who is insured for what;
  • to understand not only the liability for defective work but also to understand its impact on the work of others and the overall programme - the effect of delay on the client and the supply chain.

Partly because of fragmentation, those matters may not necessarily be the primary focus of any single person within the construction process but they are essential to the efficient running and successful outcome of a project.

Traditionally, most construction-specific knowledge and skills were learnt on the job. Over time that situation changed, going through a number of developmental stages both for professionals and those following crafts. Through this time, not only were views developing as how best to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to build with new and emerging technologies, but the industry, in terms of its structure, procurement and regulation, was becoming much more complex. A multifaceted industry became increasingly difficult to grasp.

Recessions should be times of investing in education and training so as to meet and shape future needs

The problems that arose included not only the difficulty of keeping up to date with new technologies, increased regulation and alternative procurement routes, but also in appreciating a changing marketplace: a marketplace that continues to change because of globalisation, consumer pressure, sustainability and economic pressures. In many ways, those changes have contributed to the existence of inadequately trained personnel. The nature of the inadequacies varies but in any training, formal or otherwise, the contextual matters are the ones that generally get least attention. Specific training is important but so is the context in which the outcome of training is practised.

Many within the industry have taken a fairly narrow focus regarding the exercise of their roles. That viewpoint, together with the changing nature of the procurement of construction work through the use of frameworks, off-site manufacture, partnering and co-operative concepts, means that education and training need to be enhanced. Their enhancement is necessary so as to raise awareness and to provide the requisite skills not just at management level but at all levels, including those doing the physical work.

The process of enhancing awareness, improving understanding and developing skills in the areas of procurement, supply chains and contractual arrangements, is something which the Joint Contracts Tribunal has always acknowledged. It has promoted good practice through standardisation and through guidance and practice notes: recently it has extended this through its education and training initiative. At the time of its launch the construction industry and the country were in recession and it is in such phases that training often suffers. Despite the likely lower levels of activity over the next few years, it is essential that the industry’s education and training needs are properly met. Recessions should be times of investing in education and training so as to meet and shape future needs.

Integration of the supply chain is about first understanding how it is achieved in terms of both process and behaviour and then most importantly developing the skills to operate in a co-operative manner. Understanding more clearly the relationships between procurement and the various contractual arrangements is a necessary component. Knowledge, understanding and skill are essential to a successful outcome of any project but without the requisite behavioural skills an efficient process and one with few formal disputes will not be forthcoming.

The latest part of the JCT’s education and training initiative is an essay competition for those about to commence or who are currently undergoing training in or for employment in construction. Its purpose is not only to engage people in other aspects of training and education but also to help define the future of construction, which in turn will assist those designing and providing such training. A very tall order but if some progress is made that would not otherwise have happened, then it will have been worthwhile. Details of the competition, which includes a £10,000 fund of prizes, can be found at

Peter Hibberd is chairman of the Joint Contracts Tribunal