Nicola Corfield is a 35 year old single mum and works as an Assistant Building Control Surveyor at apT, a development consultancy provided by Telford & Wrekin Council.

She joined building control just over a year ago and has a background in property management and building surveying in the private sector. Nicola studied architecture at university and is awaiting results for her MSc in Building Surveying (UCEM) that she studied for in her own time while working.

In the interview below Nicola gives us a great insight into her role in the building control industry and explains the importance of having a healthy work-life balance.

You haven't always been in building control have you? Can you tell me a little about your previous roles?

Immediately before building control I worked as a commercial property manager and trainee building surveyor. Most of my experience is in residential block management (looking after 1000+ units up and down the country) and the private rental and sale sector.

What skills do you think are transferable from your previous roles?

Management of large scale works, customer service, communication with people of all levels and sectors, understanding building fabric, managing contractors and customer expectations, legislation and the bigger picture and understanding of aspects that affect the project.

Understanding and experience with dealing with large commercial PLC companies and their procedures also comes in handy.

What was the reason for career change?

I became a mother and wasn't able to work flexibly in an industry where there was also a lack of mental stimulation and challenges.

Building control (especially local authority) offered me the mental stimulation and a flexible working pattern to allow me to perform my job as a mother as well - now I have the best of both worlds.

The council offers me flexible working so that I can attend school plays, watch football matches, eat tea together and put my "heart with legs" to bed and be around for his important moments.

Are there differences between working for the public and private sector? What are the main ones?

The public sector offers more flexible working and utilises and tries to retain people and their skills, whereas in my experience the private sector has been using more traditional approaches to working patterns.

They focus heavily on sticking to what they know works, rather than investing in innovative methods of working for staff.

The public sector also has invested more in me, training wise, in the last 12 months than I have experienced in the last five years in the private sector. They recognise the value in training and the need for having the best expertise in the industry. 

There is a common misconception, in my opinion, that people working in local authorities are only trained in one aspect or one discipline and my experience with my own authority is that this is out of date and a load of rubbish!

Most employees in the local authority have been seconded from or started their careers in different areas and have come into the sector with a broad range of knowledge, as well as private sector experience, allowing them to have a wider bank of knowledge as well as a technical specialism.

What are the main benefits for working for building control?

  • Every day is different
  • Technical and mental stimulation
  • A changing industry allows you to make a difference for the greater benefit for local community
  • Contact with people from all walks of life
  • A constant learning environment
  • You can make a difference, by liaising with the people who can instruct change and implement it at the level that matters
  • Decent pay rate
  • Good career progression
  • Varied workload
  • Mixture of on-site and in-office
  • Working from home options

You mentioned you're a single mum. How old is your son? How does building control suit your family needs?

My son is five. Building control offers me a decent salary, interesting jobs and an excellent work-life balance.

It's the moments at this age that you miss - I would be having to leave the house before he is up and would be getting home after he's gone to bed. Or worse, him having to go to bed super late as I would have to pick him up from child care.

I would be travelling to where the work is and having to beg family or friends to come and get him ready (as breakfast clubs don't open until 7:30 am at his school and after school club ends at 6 pm) or pay for child minders to fill in the periods I wouldn't make.

Or I would have to make a choice to put my career on hold and take any job just to be able to spend these precious moments with my child.

I feel incredibly lucky that I get to take my child to school and pick him up (even if he does have to do a longer day at school in breakfast and after school clubs).

I am also extra lucky as my local authority allows me to work part-time so I work Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and every half-term and holiday I get to spend time with my boy. Although I know this won't be for much longer, it has given me something money can't buy – moments and memories. 

Building control and the local authority has also chosen to invest in me and train me so when I do return to full-time work I will become a better asset to the authority and for this investment I will be forever grateful.

What qualifications do you have and did you need any additional ones before starting in building control?

I have a DipArch (higher education diploma in architecture), I have just completed an MSc in Building Surveying (in my own time), I am AssocRICS qualified and had MIRPM status (Member of the Institute of Residential Property Managers).

Ideally the local authority would have liked me to be chartered CABE or RICS but they are supporting me in becoming chartered in one of these (RICS).

What's the most exciting project you've worked on and what was your role in it?

This possibly sounds crazy but I get just as excited helping a homeowner self build a small extension or utility as I get looking at larger developments.

I am very lucky that I'm based in an area that's steeped in history (with a world heritage site) and is a fast developing new town.

For me personally I like the historical projects as I find them more challenging, and I like working with the conservation teams to find innovative construction techniques that appease both the conservation team and the building regulations.

What do you enjoy most about your new role?

The team I work with. The guys I am surrounded by have supported me so much and encouraged and pushed me to really progress and they have given me a safe, flexible environment and put the opportunities in front of me to do so.

The team is full of knowledge and are just a good bunch of folks who make coming to work a pleasure.

What are your career aspirations?

Honestly I like helping people and I would love to be able to influence change at a higher level to benefit the end users.

The construction industry has so many areas that need improvement and I hope that in the future I get to make a real difference. The industry is changing and the addition of technology in building control offers exciting opportunities.

I would like to get a chance to work on and influence these.