Training programs promising “fast track” courses to help builders become licenced are finally coming under fire – something the industry should welcome.

There are many websites promoting ‘fast track’ systems to obtain a builders licence. A Google search of the terms ‘builder,’ ‘licence,’ ‘course,’ and ‘RPL’ resulted in over 7,000 matches, all linking Australian training websites and articles attached to the search parameters. It’s time for our legislators to stop to think if the ‘fastest’ way is always going to be the best way to deliver a ‘winning’ outcome for everyone.

The promotional information being used by many Registered Training Organisations or RTOs that offer very fast training and quick qualifications to prospective builders has now become endemic. Radio, internet and magazine advertisements focus on the speed in which an ‘experienced’ but ‘unqualified’ person can miraculously become a professional builder within incredibly short time frames. The claims are facilitated by the RTO applying an extensive use of ‘recognition of prior learning’ or ‘RPL.’ But this appears to have finally come to the attention of our slow to act authorities.

Every RTO operates under the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s (ASQA) regulatory requirements. Courses from ‘Nationally Accredited Training Packages’ may be delivered using RPL processes to assess skill competencies that lead to qualifications. Obviously, my Google search demonstrates this to include several qualifications from the CPC Construction, Plumbing and Services Training Package. Certificate and diploma level qualifications are commonly used as evidence of attainment of the academic requirements  for the purpose of obtaining a builder license across the Australian states and territories.

ASQA appears to be having second thoughts about the suitability of RPL as a generic assessment tool for each and every course qualification. It recently announced that it would launch a national strategic review. ASQA stated that it will include “a review into the duration of training across the Australian vocational education and training sector, following considerable concerns being raised about very short courses.”

Speaking at the Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA) annual conference, chief commissioner Christopher Robinson said short courses had been identified as a major issue in previous strategic reviews undertaken by the authority.

“Very short courses prevent learners from gaining all the skills and competencies they should be getting from vocational education and training (VET) courses,” he said. “The previous strategic reviews undertaken by ASQA have identified the issue of very short courses to be a persistent and pervasive concern across many industry sectors.”

The Australian newspaper reported this under the headline Fast-tracked VET courses  targeted by skills authority. The article went on to say training colleges that offer certificate and diploma level qualifications in a matter of days could not possibly teach students the skills that are needed at work.

“Some of the courses offered are ridiculously short,” Robinson was quoted as saying. “Cut-price and fast-tracked courses were driving down quality across the vocational education and training sector. Some of the courses offered are too short for people to gain the skills or to be assessed properly. Employers aren’t getting the right skills and consumers aren’t getting the skilled workforce they rely on.’’

That last point is by far the most pertinent where the consumer is relying on the professional competency of a person who is granted an occupational licence by a state or territory regulator. As it stands, it is a massive problem for the bureaucratic mandarins and ministers who are paid to be the responsible regulators for home owner consumer protection and builder licensing in each state and territory.

By default, the regulators have become wholly dependent upon a multitude of external training providers making absolutely certain that the highly complex and wide ranging set of skills, knowledge and professional training across all of the qualification content have been scrutinised and assessed properly using RPL. Everyone should understand that the ‘prize’ on offer isn’t just the qualification being issued. ASQA will only investigate an RTO if a student of that training provider makes a complaint on such matters. The likelihood of that occurring is negligible as there would be very, very few persons inclined to make a complaint to ASQA on the basis that they had managed to get their trade and post-trade certificates and diplomas from their training provider ‘way too fast.’

The primary objective is of course that a nationally recognised qualification enables them to obtain a contractor or builders licence. ASQA must focus on every course qualification linked to occupational licensing, and at the top of that list must be any qualification that is linked to building construction work and building contractor licences. Many consumers must be left wondering how this situation was ever allowed to eventuate. It shows a total lack of a basic risk management that we are entitled to expect from our government and its agencies.

I would like to point out a major anomaly with the RPL concept as it is flawed in terms of its logic. Perhaps the Minister responsible could explain how it is that someone who wants his or her ‘informal experience’ recognised has collected significant knowledge of building construction work, supervision and management without the prerequisite qualifications or licences that they should have legally held.

In NSW for example, residential home building works over the value of $1,000 in labour and materials have required a licence for over 20 years. So have the applicants lining up for RPL been working illegally for decades, totally unnoticed by Fair Trading? All of their illegal building works ‘experience’ that they have accrued is now being fully recognised to provide them with a quick qualification and licence. I suspect that there are many construction site labourers, traffic controllers and home ‘handymen’ gathering up a few photos, typing up testimonials and assembling other evidence of their ‘prior learning’ are now ‘fast tracking’ it to their RTO to purchase a qualification before ASQA finally puts a stop to this rort.

All I want to say is, it’s about bloody time.

  • We do not need more restrictions in the economy, we only need to skill the workforce.
    The best houses in my street were not build by licensed builders, but by people with intelligence that allowed them to be more than taylors, furniture makers, shop keepers and office workers.
    We no longer need the building industry workers to be for all the people who never learned to read and write and dropped Maths after the second year in high school. Only last week I asked a 15 year old if he was an apprentice, and, he said No.
    He left school the week before and became a concreter because he did not like school. His boss while a hard worker could not read a plan or understand why he needed to follow the directions on a building permit.

    • That is precisely the problem I have described. The 15 year old can spend a few years labouring with his unqualified boss doing basic concreting work and then trot off to a local private training provider who for a few thousand dollars happily converts his exceedingly limited skill and knowledge via RPL into a nationally recognised building qualification which he then can use to obtain a licence issued by one of the states or territories. God help his future clients.

  • Brett, the future of construction reliability is put at risk with dodgey construction qualification schemes. With the rapidly changing nature of construction both on and off site (and from over seas) the time for better qualified professionals has never been more pressing. This is a national problem and needs national leadership. The next federal government needs to undo the damage that Tony Abbott did in flicking building regulation back to the states at his first COAG meeting in December 2014. Politicians need to understand that Australian standards prescribe minimum levels of compliance. They need to understand that when something new is developed it is often done using deemed to comply certification relying on minimum standards as a benchmark. Anne Patten does a great national service on this subject in her excellent article in last weeks Sourceable: see
    The Australian public's confidence in construction has been pretty soundly based for the last 200 years. The erosion of industry capability, qualification and certification standards we are all witnessing could erode this confidence. The tragedy is that it will take multiple calamities of some scale to bring this to a national enquiry. By then people and their livelihoods will be hurt. But this time it will be hard for our politicians to escape having a hand in all of this as they have been well warned.

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