I suppose everyone has either heard or experienced something that works in theory but not in practice, resulting in failure despite sound ideology underpinning the original concept and intent.

The introduction of the cane toad to eradicate beetle infestation in sugar cane crops must rank highly as the benchmark for this.

The implementation of a National Training Package and use of Competency Based Training (CBT) methods to serve the building and construction sector may not yet have achieved ‘cane toad’ status, but just like the expansion of an army of toxic marauding amphibians, it too is an idea that may well have been “good in theory but not in practice.”

A logical response to attempt to establish uniformity of construction affiliated training standards and transportability of qualifications across Australia was an excellent concept. However, its development and deployment have fallen well short of the intended mark.

I unequivocally support the concept of a national set of training standards for building and construction qualifications. It just makes sense, as it would for practically every other vocational or professional qualification being issued. I also advocate implementation of a standardised arrangement for the issuance of incremental occupational trade and building contractor licences being linked to qualifications.

Thus far, however, COAG has failed to implement uniformity of licensing standards – something that was promised by 2011/12. It requires very little common sense to understand that our National Construction Code (NCC) – primarily the Building Code of Australia – would be greatly supported in having a national qualifications and licensing regime rather than relying on the disparate sets of different rules and conditions of builder qualifications, work categories and licensing requirements currently set by the various state and territory authorities.

The problem with the CPC08 Construction, Plumbing and Services Training Package is the level of ambiguity inherent in its design. The creator and developer of the package, which contains around 60 distinct national qualifications ranging from a Certificate 1 right through to Advanced Diploma level as well as several hundred distinct ‘units of competency’ that may be stand alone or be packaged with compulsory or elective status to support various qualifications, is the Construction and Property Services Industry Skills Council (CIPSISC).

In May 2016, this federal government sponsored body served notice that it had morphed into an organisation known as ‘Skills Oz.’ According to its website, the previous CPSISC iteration had a board consisting of a representative from the CFMEU as chairperson, a representative from survey and spatial sciences institute as the deputy chair together with a representative from the National Fire Industry Association and the Master Builders Association.

At its launch, chairman of Skills Oz, former CPSISC deputy chair Noel Hamey OAM, said “we are excited to be launching as Skills Oz in this new and challenging environment. We see that there is lots of opportunity for us now and in the future.

“Skills Oz facilitates the continuation of existing NWDF contracts without the need for negotiation and provides a new entity for a changed vocational market in Australia. Skills Oz is committed to supporting industry to advance education and training, support employment and skills development, and contribute to high quality training products and services. Skills Oz has four key functions including; Skills Development; Quality of Training & Assessment for Industry; Products/Resources; and Research & Consultancy Services.”

Let’s hope that ‘Skills Oz’ can achieve all that it sets out to do. But as end users of the CPC08 Construction, Plumbing and Services Training Package for several years now, my colleagues and I all seem to agree that whoever decided to replace the excellent curriculum content of specific subjects allied to equivalent previous qualifications with the unmitigated dross currently described by the training package content had very little experience, understanding and knowledge of building and construction. Nor did they have the educational training requirements that would actively support a learners progression of deep and meaningful knowledge.

Just read the following extracts, firstly from the AQF 5 Diploma qualification and then from the lower level AQF 4 Certificate IV qualification:

CPC50210 Diploma of Building and Construction (Building) Description:
This qualification is designed to meet the needs of builders, including selecting contractors, overseeing the work and its quality, and liaising with clients. The builder may also be the appropriately licensed person with responsibility under the relevant building licensing authority in the State or Territory. Builder licensing varies across States and Territories and additional requirements to attainment of this qualification may be required.

Occupational titles may include:

  • Builder

CPC40110 Certificate IV in Building and Construction (Building) Description:
This qualification is designed to meet the needs of builders and managers of small to medium-sized building businesses. The builder may also be the appropriately licensed person with responsibility under the relevant building licensing authority in the State or Territory. Builder licensing varies across States and Territories and additional requirements to attainment of this qualification may be required.

Occupational titles may include:

  • Builder
  • Construction Manager

Apart from the obvious replication of a wholly obscure descriptor, there is one astounding glitch.

The ‘occupational title’ verifies that the lower level qualification would – notwithstanding the vagaries of the state and territory licensing requirements mentioned – make you more suitable to be both a ‘builder’ and a ‘construction manager’ and the higher level ‘diploma’ qualification allows you to be just a ‘builder.’

CPSISC provides some insight into this apparent disconnect during the development of these qualifications in its own overview, where it states that:

“At the end of the 2007 review of the three Training Packages for the construction, plumbing and services industries, concerns were raised that the requirements for individual registration as a builder were not well aligned to the competency outcomes of these higher level construction qualifications. In some jurisdictions this resulted in the requirement to complete significant additional units of competency in the Diploma in order to meet Builder Registration requirements. The matter could not be effectively dealt with in the re- development work undertaken during the review as it was only raised, with little detail of the issues, when the review consultation process was near completion. The concerns were not raised earlier because implementation of the qualification had only begun in 2007, so there was very limited industry or RTO experience in using them at the time of the review consultation.

“In 2008, in response to further feedback from stakeholders, CPSISC initiated this Version 4 project to seek a better alignment of qualifications to licensing outcomes. Initial consultation with a variety of industry, regulator and RTO stakeholders indicated that the structure of the Certificate IV met the majority of, but not all, jurisdictional categories of limited building registration/licensing. However, it was found that the Diploma structure could be greatly improved by having the underpinning content of some Certificate IV units embedded in it to ensure that training covered the relevant progressive skills required for higher classes of builder registration. Classes of builder licensing vary considerably across the country, with some jurisdictions having up to 30 classes or categories of licensing while one jurisdiction has a single class. In response, CPSISC initiated the Version 4 continuous improvement project to progress the issue and seek a solution.”

I wish to suggest a solution that I believe fits the ‘continuous improvement’ concept being sought. COAG should implement a national building regulator to preside over a system where building licences are categorised and incrementally graded in line with qualifications. It is also crucial that licences be only issued on completion of various standard uniform assessments to be developed by a select group of universities and TAFE’s nominated and agreed upon by the regulator and industry representatives. Future consumers and users of our built environment would thank a government that was courageous enough to do this.

  • Now from the teachers….
    What a sad and shocking state of affairs the national curriculum is in. The key problem is the decisions about what skills and knowledge a 'builder' should have is determined by people who are simply not builders. They do not represent builders and they do not know how a job site is run. The curriculum is determined by a very small, selective group of consultants who have no industry experience, who themselves choose who to 'consult' with – ultimately those with political clout winning – and also taking the path of least resistance (less time spent = more money in their pockets). This has resulted in our units needing to be 'interpreted' correctly so we can teach them what actually happens on the job, rather than what some far removed consultant 'thinks' should happen.The union thankfully being the most representative group.
    The 'system' also a long time ago refused to collaborate with teachers. The educational component has been removed from the process as Brett so rightly points out.
    I teach in the Cert IV but also run my own business, this gives me great insight into what the students need to 1. Get work and 2. Be good at it.
    CPSISC did not have the ability to link licensing with education. Poor consultation and lack of basic knowledge led to that. With a 'hands up in the air' not my fault approach. Lets hope Artibus (who have now taken over this role) can do better. But with limited funds and having to build networks from scratch it is going to be some time before we see any positive change in this space.
    Thanks for bringing this situation to light Brett.

  • Brett, you are absolutely right. If any positive change is to occur, the obvious place to begin is with training and 'registration'. The first problem is with 'builder' qualifications – meaningless! Unlike Accountants, Teachers or Doctors who are degree qualified, highly skilled and work in their occupations, many 'builders' lack any skills, are not 'on the tools' and do not 'build' – they have no knowledge or skills to 'build'! Many who become 'registered' cannot speak English, much less read plans – and openly admit to same. Many have never been to a building site, much less learned anything about building or the how to build. Worst of all, the 'registration' is simply the means to much money making – the path to profits – without any knowledge required. The Cert IV is a con, one part of the bigger consumer con.
    Most 'builders' are contractors, who sub-contract to others, with the focus on building something – anything – but with no regard for compliance, quality or safety. But these 'builders' do not have any competencies even if they wanted to do the right thing. For the newbies, feeding into an industry that condones non-compliance obviously acts to reinforce the fact that being a cowboy is accepted and lawlessness is the dominant, official culture.
    It seems that the official plan for the future is to continue the de-skilling across the building industry, with labour hire to be the source of cheap, unskilled labour – the goal to placate business in the race to the bottom. No concern for compliance, decent buildings or the safety of workers or residents.
    We not only need skilled builders, we need skilled persons in all occupational groups, but most of all, we need an ethical foundation for any change to follow.

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