Australia faces a number of challenges in delivering the best possible outcomes in building standards and building industry education, the head of a major construction industry body says.

Australian Institute of Building (AIB) President Robert Whittaker AM FAIB said the construction sector has a number of issues to deal with in order to maximise training standards at the tertiary level as well as professional standards at the practitioner level.

At a tertiary level, Whittaker said recent developments in the TVET/TAFE sector surrounding a proliferation of small Colleges and RTOs, offering a Cert IV in Building as well as the number of courses either employing trainers and assessors who are not in fact builders or being managed by personnel who lack practical building experience pose challenges in ensuring the quality and relevancy of the courses are up to standard.

Further concerns surround the ability of tradespeople in some areas such as carpentry and bricklaying to gain licences with only a Certificate III level qualification and without having completed an apprenticeship or demonstrated the on-site ability to perform tasks properly or safely.

In terms of universities, meanwhile, he said it is imperative to resist the trend away from four-year courses toward three-year ones in disciplines such as construction management and quantity surveying. He added that it is appropriate that four year degrees are now to become Honours degrees given the level of responsibility building (construction management) graduates assume compared to the design disciplines of architecture and engineering.

Whittaker said the AIB is taking steps to address these challenges at the university level through a long-standing accreditation program which aims to ensure accredited courses have the scope, content and industry relevance needed to prepare candidates to operate within key disciplines of building industry management.

The Institute further aims to drive quality education through placement of adjunct professors within accredited courses as well as via an address series through which senior practitioners give special presentations at universities, TAFEs and RTOs on one-off topics such as liquidated damages and penalties in building contracts.

Beyond this, he said AIB would like to see senior building practitioners given input in selection of both teaching staff and administrative faculty director positions, and cited the appointment of an industry reference group at Western Sydney Institute TAFE NSW as an example of a positive step forward.

“When was the last time you saw the holder of a building (construction management) degree, even with extensive industry experience, teach either engineering or architecture (building design) be it at TAFE or university?” Whittaker asked, referring to the phenomenon of trainers teaching building who are not registered builders.

He added that the teaching of building is not something to be ‘dabbled in’ but rather something that should only be done by those who have studied and practiced the discipline themselves.

Whittaker noted that “at some RTOs you will see home handymen, architects and engineers who often haven’t even worked for a contractor, people who have only worked for consultants or have been inspectors with Councils, and other folk who have never undertaken a building cadetship –  putting up their hands to teach these courses. How is industry served by this?”

Beyond education, Whittaker said further challenges involve considerations such as international mobility of labour as well as transferability between disciplines within the building management segment of the construction sector:  construction management, building surveying, quantity surveying, building economics and property management.

In terms of the former issue, Whittaker said it is important to ensure both Australian builders who work overseas and immigrants who work in Australia can assimilate as effectively as possible, and that Australian qualifications are recognised in foreign countries and that the those of workers from overseas are given adequate recognition here.

He said efforts on the part of individual AIB members such as Australian Construction Industry Forum president as well as ABCB and QBCC board member and Chartered Builder Robin Fardoulys LFAIB and Graham Teede FAIB to raise the profile of Australia on the international stage is crucial in this regard.

As transferability between disciplines goes, Whitaker said it was crucial that AIB, the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors and Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors worked to remedy the problem – not just to ensure each practitioner has the skills specific for his or her individual position but also to remove unnecessary and artificial barriers so that they do not unduly inhibit inter-disciplinary movement and the supply of professionals that industry needs.

Whittaker said it is imperative the industry avoid any form of complacency in terms of education and professional standards.

“The name of the game is constant vigilance,” he said. “You turn your back for an instant and low and behold, you get all sorts of things happening.”