Home Features TECHNICAL: A question of competency

AIS FPDC technical manager, Joe Cilia writes about the topic of pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs), paying particular attention to why they are used and why you should always, where possible, give more than a yes/no answer. With PQQs increasingly containing questions about Building Information Modelling (BIM) capability, how can you get yourself ready to answer these efficiently and effectively?

The best way to find out about someone is to ask them questions, lots of questions, about their experience, what they do, what they are qualified to do and how they go about things.

Tier 1 contractors like to know lots about the specialist contractors that they partner with to deliver the iconic projects that we see being constructed across the UK. They do this by asking their supply chain to complete a pre-qualification questionnaire at the pre-tender stage, or, more often now, when contractors apply to become a preferred supplier, which is how a number of main contractors approach two-stage tendering.

The questions are broad and although they are unique to each main contractor they do contain a number of common themes: environment, equal opportunities, financial, health and safety, process and quality standards, experience, understanding the team and their capabilities, insurance, membership, and BIM (more about that later).

Part of the reason for these PQQs is about reducing risk and giving confidence to the buyers, especially with regards to health and safety.

Born out of the Construction Design and Management Regulations (CDM), contractors are obliged to ensure the safety and welfare of operatives and those visiting construction sites. Launched in 1994, CDM has had a considerable impact on reducing death and injury in the sector. The current edition was published in 2007 (CDM 2007) and its key aim is to integrate health and safety into the management of the project, and to encourage everyone involved to work together. The document clearly states that all those with duties under CDM 2007 must satisfy themselves that the businesses they choose to engage or appoint are competent. This means making enquiries, hence the need for the PQQ and competency questionnaire.

Local councils were among the first to look to a standard form of questionnaire and formed the Council Health and Safety Standard (CHAS) which was followed by a number of similar schemes, some of which now sit under an umbrella organisation known as Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP), whose aim is to reduce the burden of duplication, and consequently facilitate recognition across schemes. The government has also stepped in with its own standard PQQ, PAS 91:2013, which is now the mandated form for all central government procurement.

So, how should you prepare to respond to a PQQ?

Certainly not with a tick in a box or a simple yes/no answer. Buyers are looking to fully understand your competencies and capabilities to ensure that you are invited to respond to appropriate tenders; for example, if you don’t offer design and have no design liability insurance, then you shouldn’t be invited to tender where your design input is required as part of the contract. Likewise if your speciality is design, you should clearly expand beyond a yes answer with details of your experience, qualifications, awards for your work and CVs where appropriate.

The PQQ process can also be used as a first filter in two-stage tendering, which some in industry think will become more prevalent with the introduction of BIM. Questions about your BIM capability are becoming more common and are often based on the CPIx BIM Assessment Form (download from www.cpic.org.uk). As BIM is a developing and newly introduced process, is it unlikely that you will be in a position to fully answer all the questions, but if the organisation asking the questions is working on being able to deliver projects using BIM, then you should investigate this further and familiarise yourself with the terms and process required to undertake your own BIM implementation plan. AIS FPDC is currently developing a workbook to help you achieve this.

And if you didn’t get the score you hoped for, always ask for feedback. It could be misinterpretation or an opportunity to hone a skill or gain experience before the next PQQ or annual audit. PQQs should not be seen as a barrier to SMEs, they should be viewed positively as they can offer a roadmap and stepping stone to growth.