Meet Alan, Clerk of Works
I thought it would be interesting to use the blog to introduce you to some of the people who’ll be living and breathing Beechley Drive over the next year. Partly this gives an opportunity to explore the different careers available in the construction industry, but also because I think it’s always interesting to meet the people behind the project.
victim candidate is Alan Parker, Clerk of Works (sometimes also known as a Site Inspector). Now I’ve known Alan for a couple of years but I’ve never been completely clear exactly what a Clerk of Works does, though I had a vague suspicion that it had to do with checking up on progress.
As it happens, I wasn’t too far wrong, though there’s a lot more to it. Alan’s role, in a nutshell, is to liaise with the architects, the engineers, the site and project managers and the client (that’s the organisation who has commissioned the building, in this case Cadwyn), to make sure that the project complies with all the appropriate regulatory standards, right from the first drawings onwards. This can sometimes mean overseeing a change in plans before a project has even started, because regulations and standards change frequently as new best practice is identified, and while commercial builders will often lag behind in implementing best practices, social housing providers will usually build to the highest and latest standards available.
Once work begins, Alan then visits at least weekly and sometimes daily, depending on what stage the project is at. When he arrives on site, his first port of call will be the site office where he’ll catch up with the Site Manager on progress and any unforeseen issues that have arisen since his last visit, before heading out on site to carry out visual and technical checks on every aspect of the developing building. If any problems have arisen, Alan will discuss a work around with the site manager, and depending on the seriousness of the issue, the architects and engineers will also need to be involved so that any solutions put in place now do not cause problems later on.
An example of an unforeseen issue might be the discovery of something unexpected underground – for instance, the project team uncovered some rogue Virgin Media cables a couple of weeks ago – you can see them here, right in the middle of the picture:
The problem with these cables is that they have been laid much closer to pavement level than they should have been, which affects how deep the foundations of the building can be. In this case there were three possible work arounds; one, to get Virgin Media to come and relay the cables properly, which would have delayed the project by months; two, to raise the entire development higher so as to be able to maintain the correct depth for the foundations, or three, to dig around the cables in a ‘V’ shape so they naturally drop further into the ground. This last was the final agreed solution, so now Site Manager Gary has to adjust the project plan to include this work, while making sure that the rest of the build continues on time.
As you can imagine, there is a lot for the Clerk of Works to keep track of, even on a small build, so Alan also completes weekly and monthly reports to ensure that he has checked the building against an ongoing list of specifications. This might seems like a lot of reporting, however if something is built up wrong, it may ultimately have to be pulled down and rebuilt, which creates big problems for everyone involved – thankfully, this is ‘very, very rare’ on the sites that Alan has looked after. Right at the very end of a job, there are also final quality checks and snagging lists to be worked through before the site is officially handed over.
The job of the Clerk of Works does not stop when the builders have left however – Alan will revisit the finished building after the new occupants have moved in to make sure there are no problems or concerns, and even to give advice on how best to use the heating and hot water systems and so forth. Then a year later Alan will carry out a final visual inspection, noting any major issues that need to be referred back to the contractors for adjustments or, in the worst case, repair – again, this is a very rare occurrence.
I asked Alan if I could take some pictures of him inspecting the site, and here they are:
Clerk of Works – Career Path
After the inspection was over, I asked Alan how someone could become a Clerk of Works, and what skills and abilities they would need. Alan explained that there are a number of ways to get into the profession, but one of the most common was to work up from being a craft apprentice, through to qualified operative, and on to site manager level. This route would give you all the hands on and practical experience needed to enter the profession, as would a solid background in construction engineering, surveying, or related fields. As well as this, Clerks of Works need to be able to communicate effectively, keep their head when under pressure, have an eye for detail and be able to create and manage detailed reports.
There is a Foundation Degree available, the result of a collaboration between the Institute of Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectorate, the body that oversees the professional development for all those working in this field. The Institute’s website has a wealth of information available if you’re interested in becoming qualified, and they can also support students through the foundation degree – if you’d like more information about this, or have any other questions about a career as a Clerk of Works, drop me a line and I will put you in touch with Alan.