Our Sector Spotlight campaign has returned for the Easter holidays, and this week we are shining a light on some of the jobs available with Orkney Islands Council.
In the first, we hear from Steven Poke who is a Building Standards Service Manager with the OIC.
After completing his sixth year at Stromness Academy, Steven undertook a construction-based degree at university. He returned to Orkney after graduation and undertook a temporary role within the Economic Development team at the council. After taking time out to travel, he secured a role as a Building Control/Planning Technician with the OIC and has progressed to his current role, undertaking continuous professional development and gaining additional qualifications along the way.
Can you describe a typical day in your role?
A typical day in the office can be very varied and no day is the same as there is a variety of tasks I undertake.
These can range from:
We also have to respond if a dangerous building has been reported, or if a building has been damaged for example by fire or bad weather, we would survey the building and advise the owners what they need to do to make it safe and liaise with them until the issues are resolved.
As you can see Building Standards do more than just assess applications for warrant or completion and thankfully all of these don’t occur every day as we wouldn’t have enough hours in the day.
How did you end up in this role?
I left Stromness Academy after sixth year and chose to apply for a construction-based university degree, not really knowing what aspect of construction I would like to get a career in. I just knew there would be plenty of scope given the degree course I had chosen and would hopefully have a few options when I completed the course. I was keen to return to Orkney and Building Standards (Building Control at the time) were not really something I had considered.
On returning from university there weren’t many construction posts available, but I was successful in gaining a temporary post in the Economic Development Department at the Orkney Islands Council in which I dealt with the property management and leasing side of things for a six month period. I completed that contract and went travelling for a few months. On my return, I initially worked in the office of the food wholesaler I had worked with during the summer holidays while at university, this was a good stopgap until something that suited my qualification became available.
Then in 2003, a job at the council came up as a Building Control/Planning Technician, which I was successful in being appointed. I chose to go down the Building Control route and was appointed as a Building Standards Officer in 2005 when that post was advertised, this was at a similar time to the legislation changing and ’Control’ changed to ’Standards’. I continued to work in this role and then progressed to be a Senior Building Standards Officer in 2017, where I had been developing my knowledge and experience over the previous years. I was appointed to my current role in April 2022 and have been enjoying the challenges that this new role has brought with it.
What is the best thing about your job?
Every day provides different tasks and challenges and therefore there is plenty of variety in our day-to-day workload and things don’t get boring. Our main role is helping stakeholders achieve their goals and meeting the local authority’s statutory requirements is always one of our key priorities, as these are monitored closely by the Scottish Government. Providing a service that offers an appropriate level of service and customer satisfaction is always pleasing and it’s great seeing the end results all around Orkney.
What is the worst thing about your job?
Due to the non-stop nature of the construction industry and the ever-evolving changes to regulations and construction industry products, its sometimes difficult to keep on top of all the paperwork and the demands on your time. There are usually lots of meetings to attend and this can pull you away from other aspects of work which means prioritising your workload is an essential skill to develop.
Having an efficient and effective team who can assist and work on their own initiative is a great asset to have, as we all manage to prioritise our work accordingly to fit around the daily challenges. Being a small team, it can be very busy at certain times of the year and we all do our best to accommodate our stakeholders and keep things progressing in accordance with our statutory requirements.
What skills do you need to undertake your role?
In our role, you have to have the ability to problem solve, communicate well, be customer focused, work effectively with others and on your own initiative and take responsibility for the decisions you make.
You also require a good knowledge of the construction industry and the regulations applicable to domestic and non-domestic buildings. Building Standards primarily involves assessing applications against mandatory standards and largely working on your own initiative.
Due to the nature of some applications, it often means discussion with colleagues is necessary and therefore team working is also a key part of the role, in particular, if unusual construction techniques are proposed that may not be common practice.
What qualifications do you have?
I have a BSc (Hons) degree in Construction Management, Post Graduate modules in Environmental Process and Pollution, Environmental Planning and Impact Assessment and a variety of Highers and Standard Grades across the range of secondary school subjects. This includes English, Maths, Geography, Chemistry, Physics, French and PE.
As part of my own development during my career, I have gained Chartered Membership with the Chartered Institute of Building, Associate Membership with CABE and also a CMI Level 6 Award in First Line Management. The Building Standards profession requires me to maintain my knowledge of the regulations and the construction industry and I therefore undertake a minimum of 30 hours CPD during the year to help keep me up to date.
Would you recommend this job to young people, if so why?
I would certainly recommend a career in the Building Standards profession for anyone looking at a role in the construction industry that is not ’on the tools’ as such. There is currently a decline in the number of Building Standards staff throughout Scotland due to an ageing workforce and developing our young people is a key issue currently being considered by the Scottish Government and Local Authority Building Standards Scotland. Therefore, lots of opportunities in variety of roles such as Technician, Inspector, Surveyors, Officers, etc. may be more readily available to those interested in this local authority profession.
Building Standards is often not considered as a career option as it is not that well known. However, it offers a great opportunity to get involved in the construction industry and with the range of positions that are available, there is certainly scope to progress and develop a career path over time in Building Standards.
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