The many professions and disciplines within the built environment/construction sector face increasingly challenging targets, writes Irene Hayden.

Housing minister Darragh O'Brien spoke recently (September 2021) at the launch of the government's housing policy to 2030, promising to provide 90,000 social homes, and pledging to end homelessness by 2030 (Hosford, 2021).

In response, Tom Parlon, director general of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), called on the government to streamline "planning, procurement and basic [utility connections] like water and wastewater", to make such fast-track targets realistically attainable (Coyle, 2021).

This mirrors some of the issues to be addressed by the appointees of the competitive challenge-based grant call to deliver the 'Build Digital' project for the construction sector, announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath TD, in December 2020, acknowledging that "increasing innovation in the Irish construction sector is more necessary … to deliver on the ambitions set out in the government’s Project Ireland 2040 investment strategy", which included "digitising the planning permission application system to speed up preconstruction planning approvals", according to former Engineers Ireland president PJ Rudden, chair of the construction sector group innovation and digital adoption subgroup (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2021).

Coordinated approach

The CIF further commented that "industry can look forward to a coordinated approach to the implementation of standards, development of nationally aligned training programmes and in time facilitate a mandate supporting the digital procurement of public and private sector projects" (Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, 2021).

Those working in higher education would welcome inclusion in the Construction Sector Group and the Construction Professionals Skillnet, as there is much synergy to be gained through this collaboration, with processes already in place, research and innovation, which can contribute to and enhance a nationally aligned training programme, as a participatory key stakeholder.

Reflecting on the learning journey of professionals and disciplines within the construction industry through the lens of, for example, a building regulation educator, a health and safety educator, and an educator in planning, contracts and law, this is specified per discipline through the Quality and Qualifications Ireland Awards Standards (QQI, 2014b, 2014a, 2016), within the Irish National Framework of Qualifications (QQI, no date).

When viewed through these lenses of reflection, inconsistencies emerge between what is expressly stated in the awards standards and the requirements of the statutory roles fulfilled by professionals through the varied legislative requirements across multiple disciplines. The ways in which individuals are taught building regulations, for example, varies with Meachem (2010, p686) reporting "a lack of education, the need for increased competency, feedback mechanisms and control" in the building regulations as being an issue to be addressed.

Figure 1: Progressive stages in building regulation education and building regulation competence

This patchy gradation of skills coming into the workforce then transitions into working life through suggested progressive pathways illustrated in Figure 1.

"The management of stages three, four and five is the responsibility of building regulation practitioners themselves, their employers and their professional bodies in a complicated peer-review cyclic process involving a combination of work-based learning, longevity of appropriate experience and engagement with purposeful professional development" (Hayden, 2021). Therefore, building regulations education is important, particularly in the professional development landscape.

There is fortunate and timely leadership at a national level within government building control, championed by Mairéad Phelan, head of the National Building Control and Market Surveillance Office, and her team.

Culture of compliance

Their availability and openness is to be commended, from accessibility for day-to-day inquiries, involvement in higher education programmes, providing topical webinars, their YouTube channel resources and publication of quarterly newsletters, thus promoting a culture of compliance through multifaceted approaches.

The question is whether the definition of competence is fully measured and transparently equated from stages one to five, illustrated in Figure 1, across all professions and disciplines.

This can be addressed through mapping, on-going discussions and dialogue between key stakeholders, to streamline from an educational and industry-experience perspective, a process of surety to fully quantify, support, and position a competent person (Department of Housing Planning Community and Local Government, 2016, p4) to fulfil their statutory roles.

Simpson et al (2019, p2) report that "competence assurance requires the capability (including technologies and processes) to intelligently manage competences, people and work activities". The problem is that there is no formal, consistent structure in place to do this in the context of building regulations in many areas of the world, including the republic.

Reform in competence recognition

Similar reform in competence recognition has commenced in the United Kingdom in 2021, with the Architects Registration Board reporting "the Grenfell Tower disaster, the climate emergency and growing calls for equality and inclusion across the globe demand sweeping reforms to the way professionals who design the built environment are assessed" (Lowe, 2021).

Research in this area also recognises that there is the potential for building regulation competence through proven performance. For example, Meacham et al (2007) suggest a requirement for "performance-based building regulations" and report significant opportunities for research and development in this area.

This is already in place for regulations such as those linked to ‘Conservation of Fuel and Energy’ (DHPLG, 2021), managed and regulated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

Other aspects of the regulations do not have digital performance-based measures of compliance in place for the building regulations but could readily be captured from digital output as part of building information modelling (BIM) contracts, for example. The opportunities for alignment with the Build Digital project are opportunistic at this interface.

Assurance of one's individual competence to undertake performance-based building regulations in the defined statutory roles of assigned certifier, ancillary certifier, and builder under the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations, for example, will give surety to the professionals offering and performing these services and, equally, to their clients and members of the public.

Competence assurance will come, in part, from professional development practice. Simpson et al (2019, p2) state that a "conscious competency evolution relies on robust lifelong learning opportunities and infrastructure".  

The problem is that competence may not be measured, assessed, nor addressed in any meaningful way in many professional development offerings, and it may not be done consistently between disciplines.

Building regulations education

Similarly, an accessible, inclusive, multidiscipline infrastructure to support this professional development practice in the context of professional development building regulations education, for example, is also not immediately present in the republic. These are areas for further dialogue and resolution.

In the opening address by Professor Orla Feely, president of Engineers Ireland, at a recent webinar hosted by the Engineers Ireland Academic Society, entitled 'Chartered Engineer: Attaining the CEng title as an engineer in academia', it was stated that Irish academia is relevant to Irish Industrial success stemming from the engineering profession. Multinational and indigenous industries need to be equally nurtured. "Systems of higher education and research need to be robust, excellent, and fully funded to achieve this and to nurture the talent required for this to succeed" (Engineers Ireland Academic Society, 2021).

Prof Feely also notes the emergence of Ireland as a place for talented engineers: "40% of new Engineers Ireland members are global engineers, up from 7% in 2014". She further states that Ireland needs to attract and retain "these talented individuals and support them to grow their careers" (Engineers Ireland Academic Society, 2021).

The professional development landscape will need to make accommodations for incoming global engineers to align their skills to demonstrate competence. This also warrants further discussion at a national level, as part of the overarching issues already mentioned.

The backdrop of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 (Bill 39 of 2021), signed into Irish law in July 2021, will further challenge those working in the construction industry, "for the purpose of pursuing the transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich and climate neutral economy by no later than the end of the year 2050 and to thereby promote climate justice" (Irish government, 2021). This too is an opportunity for alignment with the Build Digital project, particularly if coupled with digital output requirements in BIM contracts.

Normalising compliance and competence assurance within the construction industry, such as in the context of the building regulations, for example, and devising techniques for multiple disciplines to meet those requirements and to standardise requirements will create sustainable construction practices and lines of supply, vis-à-vis a trained and skilled workforce capable of fast-track-project-implementation.

It will help to create a sustainable, healthy, safe built environment for everybody to work in and to occupy, with key stakeholders in the construction industry operating as one, cohesive entity. 

Author: Irene Hayden BSc, MCIAT, BE, MSc, CEng MIEI, PG Dip, joined GMIT in 2005 as a lecturer in the Department of Building and Civil Engineering, having previously graduated from QUB in architecture, civil engineering from NUI Galway, MSc in Renewable Energy and Energy Management from Ulster University, for which she received an Energy Institute Award, and having previously worked in the construction industry in Ireland and the UK. She completed a PG Dip in teaching, learning and assessment in AIT, and is completing a PhD at Lancaster University. She received the Taylor and Francis Award for Best Paper at the seventh International Congress on Architectural Technology 2018, the 2020 GMIT Presidential Teaching Excellence Award, and is the programme chair for the MSc in Built Environment Regulation.


1.) Coyle, D (2021) Government must fix issues holding back construction, says industry chief, The Irish Times. Available at:

2.) Department of Housing Planning Community and Local Government (2016) 'Code of Practice for Inspecting and Certifying Buildings and Works - Building Control Regulations 1997 to 2015,' pp. 1–79. Available at: for Inspecting & Certifying Building Works- Building Control Regulations.pdf.

3.) Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2021) Minister McGrath launches competitive challenge-based grant call to deliver Build Digital Project for the Construction Sector in 2021, Available at:

4.) DHPLG (2021) 'Building Regulations - Technical Guidance Document L- Conservation of Fuel and Energy – Buildings other than Dwellings', commercial Buildings Special Working Group, pp. 1–100. Available at:,20322,en.pdf.

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6.) Hayden, I (2021) An investigation into the experience of online learning using a visual building regulation pedagogy and its position in the wider professional development landscape.

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12.) QQI (2014a) Award STANDARDS - Architecture. Dublin. Available at: - Awards Standards.pdf.

13.) QQI (2014b) Award STANDARDS - ENGINEERING. Dublin. Available at: - Awards Standards.pdf.

14.) QQI (2016) Awards Standards – Architectural Technology. Dublin. Available at: Technology Awards Standards.pdf (Accessed: July 13, 2017).

15.) QQI (no date) Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Available at: (Accessed: March 3, 2016).

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