For National Apprenticeship Week 2021, we spoke to Sergi Parera and James Chesher, about their apprenticeship experience working for 3C Building Control.
Both Sergi and James had very different pathways into their apprenticeships – from study abroad to completing a degree at university in an entirely different subject.
Q: Please introduce yourself and what you do
Sergi: I’m a Senior Building Control Surveyor, 3C Shared Services.
James: I’m a Senior Building Control Surveyor, 3C Shared Services.
Q: What does your organisation do?
3C Shared Services is a strategic partnership between three councils to provide the building control service for Cambridge City Council, Huntingdonshire District Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council.
Q: And what does your role entail within the organisation?
As Senior Building Control Surveyors, we’re responsible for an area and providing the full range of duties from assessing plans for compliance within the building regulations to dealing with unauthorised works and dangerous structures.
Q: Could you explain your education pathway and why you chose the apprenticeship route?
Sergi: I was a Civil Engineering in Spain, then moved to Italy and did an internship. I then moved to UK, and applied for the Apprenticeship in Building Control – that was 5 years ago.
I’ve always been interested in construction since I was young, and most of my family are engineers. It’s difficult to find job as a Civil Engineer, so I expanded into other construction roles, and building control sounded interesting.
I came in as an apprentice and did a two-year course, and then applied for an assistant role. I progressed from Assistant to Surveyor and then Senior Surveyor, at the same time as completing LABC Level 4 and Level 5 training. I’m currently undertaking Level 6 (degree) distance learning. This is all sponsored by my employer, Cambridge City Council.
James: I attended University and did a non-construction related degree – I did a general degree in sport science, and would have had to specialise if I wanted to take this further.
I worked for a builder in the summer holidays and enjoyed this. I enjoyed manual work, and my dad is also a builder.
I got into carpentry, and then wanted to progress in construction. I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Surveying with a conversion module in my own time.
I then applied for the job with 3C Shared Services and came in as an Assistant. Like Sergi, I then progressed from Assistant to Surveyor and then Senior Surveyor, at the same time completed LABC Level 4 and Level 5 training, currently undertaking Level 6 (degree) distance learning. This is all sponsored by my employer, Cambridge City Council.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
Sergi: My typical day is now working from home. I check emails, and check notes for site inspections from the previous day are added to system. I check site inspections for the day, and see if there’s anything that needs to be checked for the day. I undertake some plan checking and go out on site. On a typical day I work on my own and travel to five or six different sites on average. I see all stages of construction work, from foundations and drainage, to structure and completion.
I also check dangerous structures, discuss any queries with the builder and offer advice. We might discuss how things are going, what the next stage is, and I may have to check something when I return home.
James: I am now working from home as part of the plan checking team. I log on, check emails, reply to anything urgent and undertake plan checking. This varies from small single storey extensions to conversions to large commercial, internal alternations or large housing developments to blocks of flat.
No two jobs are same. Once done, I send a checklist to the agent, and when I receive their amendment list, I resolve any queries. I then make decisions on applications and approve them – hopefully!
I help with queries, calls or emails of technical questions, undertake fire consultation (with fire authority), liaise with fire officer if applicable, and the consultation local water authority and structural engineer.
The plan check involves looking at a mixture of drawings and written specifications and checking these to comply with each part of the building regulations, and approved documents, which is government guidance or other documents. Generally, I undertake three per day.
Q: What skills does your role require?
Sergi: You need to be able to understand and interpret building regulations and other legislation and guidance such as health and safety and risk assessments.
The ability to be diplomatic and to be a good communicator and have good people skills. Sometimes we have to issue bad news, and we have to do this in a constructive way so they understand.
Time management is essential and to be efficient and consistent, and being able to talk to team members to discussing technical issues.
James: You need to be able to interpret and apply the regulations and approved documents. Good analytical skills and an eye for detail not to miss anything that could be life endangering are essential.
The ability to communicate your observations in an appropriate manner to construction professionals. Time management is key – you need to make sure plan checks are done in required time frame, meeting statutory and internal targets.
Timescales are three weeks for plan checks and five weeks and two months for decisions, so you’ve got to be organised. Customer service is also key– we need to get back to agents in a timely manner.
Q: What do you like about your role and what are some of the challenges you face?
Sergi: Every day it is different and not very often boring. I learn something new or question things that need research. Everyday I do new things, and never know what to expect.
A big challenge is dealing with people. It can be tricky and frustrating and you have to think about how to conduct yourself in a professional way. People really appreciate your job and are thankful for what you do but some see you as the enemy. It can be difficult to make them understand we are here to help them and make buildings safe.
James: Every drawing is different, even if it’s the same single storey extension – different architect, different scheme.
No two days are the same and that’s a very positive aspect of the job. The technical side is interesting and I’m always learning – there are always updates and new materials and techniques on site, and ever changing modern construction method.
I talk to a range of people – homeowners, builders, architects, fire officers, colleagues.
A challenge – we can give them the solution and want to try and help them to get the building compliant, but we cannot give them the answer. We give them the route to the answer – and try to be helpful but not to do it for them. Our role is to check.
Q: What differences would you like to see in the World of Work in 5 years’ time?
Sergi: Rewriting the documentation that accompanies the legislation to make it easier to comprehend and complete a clarification review of all documents.
James: Digital – more flexible ways of working, and more work/life balance. Technology is key, and better equipment will help us streamline further.