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Resident liaisons need help

AGENDA Viewpoint

House builders should give training to resident liaison officers, writes Tessa Shelley

THE ROLE of the resident liaison officer on social housing construction and refurbishment projects has undergone a dramatic evolution over the past decade.

Once simply considered the messenger between the construction team and residents, the RLO is often now an integral part of many social housing contractors' on-site teams.

The advent of the Egan Report and Constructing Excellence prompted some companies to think seriously about the importance of the residents to achieving quality service standards for social housing providers.

At Rydon Construction we know the relationship with residents - built by the RLO team - is pivotal to our performance in social housing.

Yet the wider industry is failing to officially recognise the role of the RLO.Like any other job (either manual or office based), RLOs need training and hands-on practical experience to achieve a competent level. So why does the industry not recognise this and give the role the credibility and respect it deserves?

One reason is that there is currently no standard job description like there is for other construction trades and professions.

There are also significant differences between contractors' expectations.

When I interview RLOs from other contractors, I find their job often includes tasks ranging from acting as the site team's administrative assistant to performing snagging and remedial repairs.

The role needs to be clearly defined.The primary focus of the RLO should be on the residents'needs and not on conveying messages from a site manager to residents.RLOs are there to perform an important role and not just to ensure that boxes are ticked.

Roydon's job description includes the need to: get involved with residents at a consultation stage; properly articulate the residents' requirements and concerns; to act as the face of the contractor; to interact positively with tenants; and facilitate a proactive multi-disciplinary team effort on projects involving residents.

In addition to resident skills, RLOs also need to have a basic understanding of the construction and social housing environment and the training in the more practical elements of the role such as health and safety.

Also, there is no reason why a nationally accredited course should not be supplemented by internal training - a contractor specialising in developing homes for older people may need to provide specific training in working with this resident group.

The role has the potential to achieve universal credibility if these practices are followed. But like any other construction trade or profession it requires a nationally accredited training programme and qualification before it is formally recognised everywhere and, at present, this does not exist.

The skills and competences covered through standardised training need to culminate in a formal qualification issued to the RLO.

If this is all implemented by the industry it would mean that in future, when the CV says RLO, an organisation could be sure that it is employing an individual who is resident focused, competent and able to bring value to the business by performing this vital function professionally.

Tessa Shelley is resident liaison team manager at Rydon Construction