Building Magazine


New report calls for action to prepare for future challenges faced by built environment profession

What challenges does the built environment profession face in coming years – both for itself and in relation to the broader world? What actions can it take to address these challenges and prepare as best as possible for the future? A new RICS report, called Our Changing World: Let’s be ready, seeks to address these questions. It was officially released globally at the annual RICS Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, and examines how global social and economic changes will require new skills, business models and responses to developing technologies over the next 15 years. It also looks at some actions already being taken by the profession to prepare for and adapt to these changes and challenges.

“The RICS Futures report is an exciting landmark document, and its global launch in the Americas is very appropriate as what it has to say is relevant to our region,” says John Hughes, Americas chairperson for RICS and founding partner of Hemson Consulting Ltd in Toronto. “The report will get people talking but more importantly I think it will be a catalyst for action for our organization throughout the Americas and beyond. For example, in seeking to win the what has been called the ‘war for talent,’ we will be working to increase the profession’s ‘cool factor’ with a special emphasis on diversity and inclusion, as well as upping our training offerings to support the organizations that employ our members.”

Also in connection with this talent war, “massive changes in the workplace will affect the skills needed in the future,” says Neil Shah, Americas managing director, RICS. “Given this rapid rate of change, we will need to collaborate to develop solutions to challenges the changes pose. And we are keen to work with partners such as businesses and governments to move forward. As part of this, we will need to develop new strategic alliances with organizations at the forefront of technological advances and knowledge creation in related fields to support the land and built environment profession,” Shah says. “And increasingly, these alliances will be outside those sectors.” 

RICS’ Canada chair also considers the report a milestone for the sector. “I believe this document takes a huge step forward in starting to address the issues we face going forward as a profession,” says Steve Elias, managing partner for redM Group in Vancouver. “In Canada, like many Western nations, we are seeing an aging population of experienced professionals in the industry. Taking action to help win the war to attract new talent is significant, and working in conjunction with educators and employers is critical to retaining the best and brightest talent.”

“In addition, helping build successful and sustainable cities – in Canada and elsewhere – as people continue migrating to higher-density urban cores is of paramount importance,” Elias says. “And, understanding and leveraging the onslaught of ‘big data’ and information technology specific to the property industry, plus attracting the brightest talent, will in my opinion drive us into new and exciting areas — and result in a level of clarity and transparency of information upon which the best possible decisions can be made in this sector,” he  concludes.

This report draws on the views and perspectives of stakeholders from diverse specialisms and geographies across the surveying profession, globally. It captures the insights and expectations of what they project the most pertinent issues on the horizon will be leading to 2030. Through workshops, public forums and one-on-one interviews, more than 400 people from Asia, North America, South America, Europe and Africa shared their outlook of what the future may look like. The report identifies 6 areas of action geared to the short to medium term that will support the profession and the sector in preparing for the challenges and opportunities these changes will generate. These actions include:

Action Area #1: Helping our sector win the war for talent

Employers globally are faced with the need to maintain, and retain, a talent pool that is more diverse, inclusive and has the skills required to benefit the sector. A key endeavor is to attract talent that will meet the sector’s needs.

Action Area #2: Having ethics at the heart of everything we do

Ethics is central to professional behavior within the built environment and related professions. RICS is currently working with a coalition of organisations to agree on a global set of International Ethics Standards (IES) that seeks to create high-level principles for global ethics. We are also working with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) to formulate best practices for business within the sector to meet global sustainability targets.

Action Area #3: Creating successful and sustainable future cities

At present 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities. This is expected to rise to 66 per cent by 2050, according to projections by the United Nations. The profession has an important contribution to make in helping cities ensure that they become more resilient, sustainable and affordable for future generations.

Action Area #4: Embracing technology and big data

Changing technologies and the ability to stay attuned to new innovations that impact on the sector, are some of the important trends identified by professionals interviewed for this report. Development in digital technologies will impact on the creation of new business streams, the need for different skills and competencies and bring new risks with it.

Action Area #5: Helping the surveying profession take new opportunities

The major social and economic changes we expect over the next few years will mean that surveyors, globally, will be required to adapt and hone their skills. The goal is to create a more dynamic profession with the ability to respond to market changes and the wider society in which it operates. We expect fields such as infrastructure, workplace, finance and technology to require more professionals, and for Asia to be the region with the strongest demand.

Action Area #6: Developing strong leadership

Leadership is another issue professionals have themselves chosen as one that is central to an evolving profession. Many highlighted the need for the sector to work closer with governments to give the built environment a greater voice in influencing policy. 

Toronto shows leadership

According to the report, the City of Toronto is of the first Canadian cities to take mitigating steps in dealing with climate change. This includes infrastructure modification such as implementing sustainable urban drainage, tree planting at street level and green roofs to reduce urban heat and excess demand for air-conditioning. The city’s actions on climate change fit in with the report’s call for efforts to address inequality and instability by, among other things, bolstering cities’ resilience in the face of environmental and other pressures.

“We’re proud of the fact that, working with our residents, businesses and partners, the City of Toronto has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent against 1990 levels, significantly exceeding our 6 per cent target,” says John Tory, Mayor of Toronto. “City Council continues to set the stage for further actions to improve our resilience, and I am personally committed to increasing our tree canopy which was devastated by a massive ice storm in 2013. We are rising to the challenge.”

This adaptive capacity places Toronto among the most resilient cities, according to research conducted by Grosvenor, which ranked cities against their ability to respond to th
reats presented by a range of factors including climatic disasters, pollution and overconsumption of land resources. 

The current wave of office-building in the city is another indicator of how the profession is responding to current challenges, says Scott Chandler, Canada operations president and CEO for Cushman & Wakefield. “The substantial amount of new office construction in Toronto is bringing in a better, more employee-friendly climate, with an increased focus on employee satisfaction and productivity rather than simply cost per square foot. We are recognizing that the built environment and real estate can play an important role in employee satisfaction and comfort, and that the ability to use technology and innovate is positively changing the way people work, shop and live,” says Chandler. 

And the profession’s expertise will be key to ensuring that infrastructure projects are as well-planned and executed as possible as these expand in Toronto and elsewhere. “As cities continue to increase in density, investments in infrastructure will be more important than ever in sustaining urbanization and boosting economic development,” says Michael Commons, senior executive vice president, Cost Consulting, Altus Group. “Thriving cities, such as Toronto, are looking for innovative and alternative delivery models such as P3 projects to support this rapid growth. At the same time, they’re demanding a level of experience and understanding to ensure maximum efficiency and strong outcomes.”

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