For this Q&A session I was very pleased to be able to reach out to Stephen Hodgson from the Property Care Association. My core reason for this was to learn a little more about the PCA, in particular the training courses they provide.
Stephen joined the Trade Association as a technical specialist in 2000 after 13 years working as a surveyor and manager in the preservation industry. He has been Chief Executive Officer of the Property Care Association since October 2012. Stephen is passionate about the industry in which he is proud to serve and is committed to delivering the highest possible standards of service and workmanship to consumers as well as first rate representation and value for money to members of the Property Care Association. Stephen works hard to maintain strong links with organisations including RICS, the Council of Mortgage Lenders, TrustMark, STBA, BRE, National Flood Forum and the newly launched UKCMIB.
How have you seen the Property Care Association (PCA) evolve over the years and where do you see the direction of travel for the PCA.
The PCA has always been concerned with quality and the professionalism of its membership. In the last few years I hope the Association has developed its capacity to push its established standards of conduct and expertise further, by adding value to membership and acting not only as a educator but as a promoter, creator and custodian of quality and reliability in the mind of the consumer.
With the PCA conferences just around the corner, can you give a brief run-down of the conferences. Why should people attend?
Anyone with an interest in the preservation and refurbishment of buildings or the control of non-native invasive plants is welcome at our conferences. The conferences are educational and informative while being inclusive and interactive. We cover a wide range of topics that deals with everything from the pure technical through commercial to just the downright odd.
Has there been consideration for making the conference venue more central or holding a conference in the north of England or Scotland?
We think Coventry is pretty central! After many years of moving the conference around the UK perhaps we have become a little stuck with what we know is a very accommodating venue. Everything is open to review and we would certainly not rule out a move of venue in 2020.
Is there a particular PCA course that you think stands out from the rest or is your favourite?
The cornerstone of the training we deliver remains the two- and three-day courses for surveyors who want some specialist knowledge in damp diagnostics and timber defects, structural waterproofing or Japanese knotweed. I don’t have a favourite, but I do think the suite of three one-day courses dealing with condensation, ventilation and evaluating buildings in existing buildings are unique, highly engaging and a must for anyone wanting to really get to grips with atmospheric moisture.
How do you see the PCA professional development offering develop over time?
We constantly evolve. Existing course content is under constant review in order to ensure its relevance and accuracy, this will continue. Emerging challenges such as the raise in defects associated with retrofit insulation has promoted the development of new training that will roll out in 2020. Action is now required to control a range of non-native alien plants as they are encountered so PCA has an obligation to provide instruction on the identification and control of these. Ground Gas management is an area of development for the PCA and we hope that 2020 will see developments in our training programme here also.
Our aim must always to be informative and relevant while providing value. If we remain focused on these principles, we won’t go far wrong as we continue to enhance our educational offerings.
Do you think the PCA courses have the blend right between the course and examination? Do you find many completing the course without the exam?
The training courses are first and foremost educational. There is great value in the instruction we deliver regardless of the student’s need, or willingness, to be tested.
The fact is that the majority of the training we provide is attended by those who want knowledge rather than qualification. Some wish to have their knowledge tested and recognised through the attainment of qualification and we naturally encourage this, as they remain a requirement of membership.
We deliver apprentice training, course for technicians, surveyors and consultants. Some are highly focused, some more general, but the training that binds all these offerings is always high quality and accessible providing education and stimulation to those who wish to invest in the professional development of themselves and their workforce.
Some would point out certain examples of poor specification of injected damp proof courses over the years. Does the CSTDB course equip surveyors with the requisite knowledge to correctly diagnose dampness defects and properly specify the correct repair?
We would be at pains to point out that there is no such event as the CSTDB course! We teach surveyors about dampness, timber decay and wood destroying insects. The course content is relevant to the exam but not a prerequisite.
The three-day course for surveyors does not tell candidate what to use or how to use it. This is covered in the technician’s course or is information often best delivered by the suppliers of products. Our training is about identification, understanding, surveying practice, reporting, causes, effects, biology, entomology. It cannot teach people how to be surveyors in three days, any more than it can tell surveyors how to be preservation contractors.
Do you think the building preservation industry gets a bad rap?
It is a fact that there is poor practice in all parts of the building, refurbishment and housing services industries. That said, I don’t know of another member-led and funded organisation that does more with its own members’ money to create, set and maintain standards, fund research and deliver education than the Property Care Association and its members.
What I find frustrating is that the people and organisations that engage with us and our members see us for what we are. Organisations and individuals that work with us can inform us and learn with us taking mutually beneficial advantages from our contact. While those who deride the Association and its members are usually ignorant of our values and actions. The number of times that I have seen people say that that we try to create surveyors in three days and that our qualification is the result of a multiple-choice test sat at the end of the third day is bewildering. To be clear, the timber and damp exam is overseen by ABBE, it consists of three separate written papers (over seven hours in total), two professional interviews and a practical identification test.
What role does the PCA play in ensuring the continued high standards of its members?
The PCA is simply the custodian and enforcement agent for the standards that members set for themselves. By being focused on standards, education, auditing and enforcement, the Association is able to promote members, confident that they are the best in the business.
If members see real economic advantage in the Association then this promotes the continued improvement in standards and service expectation that has driven and will continue to drive education, professional development, the creation of best practice, research and the creation of guidance.
The PCA ‘is’ its members, but no one member is bigger than the collective. As a group we are totally committed to the long-term benefits that come with quality, knowledge and service. These values are – and will – remain at the heart of everything the PCA does.
End of Q&A
I get a real sense from reading through Stephens responses that he is clearly very passionate about what he does. I found it really interesting to find out what training courses the PCA is working on for 2020 and I will keep an eye out for this as it is released next year.
If you would like to find out more on the PCA conference please click here. The PCA training prospectus can also be found below: