Despite its popularity among construction circles in the U.K., the clerks of works (CoW) position has been more obscure in Canada’s construction industry, notes a professional currently holding that position here.
Shannon Hulme has more than 10 years of experience in the field and hopes to shed some light on it.
“Clients and owners, I don’t know if they’re aware of the position and that’s why I want to bring more awareness to the position,” Hulme said, who operates his own CoW firm Shanco.
The role of a CoW is to attend project sites and to maintain quality assurance. They’re what Hulme likes to call, “the eyes and ears of the architects and engineers.”
Some of the duties include ensuring that specifications, schedules, materials and quality of work all meet the client’s standards, identify any of the project’s shortcomings early on and conduct regular inspections.
Hulme says consultants in Canada have been reluctant to hire more CoW’s to avoid driving up the costs.
“Nobody likes to spend more on their projects,” he added. “It’s basically like having another party involved and at times, it can be cumbersome having an additional party.”
Hulme usually charges around three per cent of the entire project costs for his services, which he says pays for itself because he provides the foresight to point out potential problems early in the construction phase which could be significant fixing costs later down the road.
“I’ve easily saved (companies) well over that on some projects.”
Despite the extra name to the payroll, Hulme says hiring a CoW adds value and piece of mind to the construction process and the finished product.
“It’s looking out for your project, ensuring that everything that goes in the contracts is provided,” he said. “It’s providing value for your money and helping the construction process move a lot smoother.”
Another reason the position hasn’t taken off in Canada yet is because the job title isn’t very clear, says Hulme. He hopes to change the perception of the role to make it more distinctive from similar positions such as a quality inspector or project manager.
“In Canada, we’d like to be a little more direct,” he said,
Rather than a CoW, Hulme prefers the title “quality assurance professional” because it is more telling of what the role entails. “With clerks of works, nobody knows what it means.”
Hulme helped roll out three Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) headquarters for its Forensic Investigation Units as part of the OPP Modernization Project. He provided site reviews, took regular measurements and assessed the quality of work to ensure they were up to standards.
The job demands a flexible schedule because the individual is required to be on site more regularly than anyone else and, at times, is the only one involved in the project from start to finish of the construction period.