Opinion: Improving the APC Assessment Process for All Surveyors
Recently, I spoke to a surveyor who had taken the week off work for a resit on his APC, only to be told late afternoon the day before it was cancelled due to lack of assessor availability. His first assessment involved an assessor on an iPad in his car, which kept on falling down. It's hard to say why he failed, but that would have put most people off the most important interview of their careers. I have since heard of many cases of cancellations this session; all apparently, the fault of the assessors for cancelling at short notice.
I am disappointed to learn that RICS is in this position again. The frequency of these cancellations indicates a deeper problem than just the assessor's availability. Blaming assessors is not helpful to the culture of the surveying profession. As assessors, we all know how stressful it is to prepare for your APC; we have been there, too. For many of us, qualifying is a life-changing, not just a career-defining moment, and as assessors, we would do our utmost to avoid cancelling unless we felt we had no other choice. But it also takes a lot of time to prepare for an assessment - a good assessor will not just rock up and carry out the interview.
Other concerns raised recently include the consistency of assessors, ensuring specialist pathways have a suitable specialist on the panel, the appeal process being a challenge (some don't appeal for fear of a mark against them, others make appeals very personal, which is not appropriate), and the RICS being very slow to respond to anything. The Qualifications and Assessment Committee (QAC) is actively working on these issues. However, there's a growing sense that member feedback isn't being fully leveraged.
As I reflect on the situation, albeit as an outsider but a past assessor, I can't help but engage my problem-solving skills after years of working in customer experience. So here are some thoughts:
Investing for Future Success
Many in the surveying profession question whether RICS is (or should be) both a standards and regulatory body and a membership organisation. It is hard to be all things to all people, and sometimes, the lines get blurred, albeit with good intentions. But success depends on where our resources – time, energy, and money – are allocated, and the same applies to a membership organisation.
Is enough attention and budget being given to ensure the surveyors of the future are supported by experienced, qualified professionals? Assessing candidates is a specialist skill - it takes a lot of time to master and commitment to remain relevant and current. Many give their time voluntarily to give back and support the profession - but is it right that volunteers do such important work if they have time? Is this a robust enough plan for a professional organisation?
And I say volunteer their time because the fee paid for the day is significantly less than most surveyors' hourly rate, so they donate it to Lionheart instead of claiming it back.
Enhancing the Experience
The APC function has to serve people worldwide and across multiple pathways. The focus appears to be how it can ensure four people (three assessors and one candidate) are in a virtual room at a certain time after ensuring the candidates' submission has reached the assessors at least a few weeks before. Throw in a couple of genuine curve balls and a bunch of nerves, and there is a high risk of failure. That is not fair to the candidate, the assessor or RICS employees who might just be trying to do their best.
The candidate and assessor's experience should be central to the APC interview process. This involves understanding and mitigating risks and creating conditions for successful outcomes. Success is not just passing the APC; it's a successful APC process, too. Surveyors want people to succeed in difficult professional interviews and recommend the RICS to others - we have earned our charters.
Customer experience is no different to employee engagement or member experience. You take a situation, process or journey and map out what an individual needs to feel and experience. You look at the risks which could or do go wrong and the moments which equate to a successful outcome. Recognising individual needs is important for confidence and success - what does a candidate need to know to feel confident an assessment will go ahead? What does an assessor need to feel comfortable to assess on a given day? Address these, and you are more likely to have a successful outcome.
Set for Success
In customer experience, we talk about Basic moments - what absolutely needs to happen and Wow moments - times when service is excelled - these become performance indicators that can be reported on and become targets but are set for the customer's benefit. For example, if RICS did have to cancel, would it be better to do it a week before and rearrange the date at the same time so a candidate is less stressed than being told 24 hours before? What would need to happen and be in place for that to be how things were done? As basic, it would ensure that no candidate turns up to an assessment to be told the panel cannot continue unless it was an absolutely exceptional set of circumstances, nor that a candidate takes a week of work to prepare and finds out the day before it is cancelled, but also, that an assessor does not lose a day's wages either.
Questions must be asked at every stage of the candidate and assessor's APC journey. Why are there two sessions a year in a digital age? Who does the online process benefit, and is it fair? Could there be an option of in-person or online? Has anyone asked candidates or assessors what they would prefer, or has it resulted from cost-cutting? Has exploring spreading assessments throughout the year, improving availability and reducing peak stress periods been considered as a way of supporting assessors and candidates - could it be trialled? An online diary booking system could be a more flexible solution, which many of us are familiar with.
And when it comes to funding the APC operation, is it right to have it delivered in-house, or can the services be better resourced externally, perhaps with more accountability? Is a fair tender process in place for suitable firms to apply to be paid assessors or facilitate APC interviews taking a panel approach rather than let's see who we can find? Can those who genuinely want to volunteer their time drop in as independents or auditors on a low commitment (and maybe more enjoyable) experience?
Some of these questions are big and challenging, but we must not fear them if how we serve our clients, employees, or members is not working.
The reality is that sometimes things go wrong, but that should be the exception, not the norm. It all comes down to the priority - pushing people through an assessment or giving care and attention to a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a candidate. Surveying is a people business, and we must never forget that.
Written and published 20/11/2023