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Licensing system to drive uptake of structured training

by Virginia Burton, Manager Occupational Licensing, Department of Building and Housing.

7 Mar 2005: The success of the new licensing system for building practitioners is linked to structured training opportunities that will allow designers and builders to reach national standards of competency.

Licensing is one of a package of changes introduced by the Building Act 2004 to improve control of and encourage better practices in design and construction.

The licensing system introduces the concept of restricted work – work so critical that if done badly it has the potential to cause significant harm to people or cause costly property damage.

From 2009 all restricted work must be carried out or supervised by a licensed building practitioner. The licensing regime will set standards that measure people’s experience and their competence to perform quality work.

Evidence of knowledge, an understanding of theory and competence on the job will be the basis for issuing licences to undertake restricted work. At present the evidence points to an industry that largely relies on informal and unsystematic training. There are gaps in the range of qualifications and delivery mechanisms nationally available – and certainly gaps in participation.

Evidence points to lack of formal training

Census data indicates a low level of vocational training in the industry at present. Excluding architects and engineers, it is estimated that 40,000 people in New Zealand currently identify themselves as designers, builders, carpenters and tradespeople working in the construction industry. This shows a growth of almost 28% since 2001.

However, the percentage of people with vocational training ranges from 11% for roofers, 13% for plasterers, 20% for brick and blocklayers and about 35% for carpenters and builders.

Some 41% of construction managers have a vocational qualification and 16% have a degree. For draughting technicians, 48% are vocationally qualified and 11% have a degree.

The figures show that most people in the building industry have acquired their skills informally rather than through a systematic process of learning. There is also limited evidence of ongoing learning and development in the building industry at a time when there is increasing complexity in the sector – not only in the type of buildings constructed but also new products being developed.

It also appears that a number of trades have almost ceased formal training. From 2000 to 2003 a total of 26 plasterers graduated with a National Certificate in Solid Plastering and just 45 people completed a National Certificate in Masonry, Brick and Block Laying.

More trainees needed just to meet replacement levels

The good news is that during the same period, 2,000 trainees completed their National Certificate in Carpentry and currently 5,347 trainees are working towards this qualification. However, this is still below replacement levels, particularly as 51% of carpenters and builders are over 40 years old.

Formal training is also expanding in proprietary plaster cladding and roofing.

The licensing system aims to raise standards and is likely to further encourage the growth of strong links between training providers and the industry. If people are able to get formal recognition of competence that meets national standards, consumers will have increased confidence in the industry.

The availability of structured training may encourage younger people to consider the industry an attractive option in which to pursue a rewarding career.

Challenges ahead for industry training organisations

Industry training organisations and training providers are aware of the new licensing system and will be kept well informed as the system develops. Their challenge will be to align training standards and delivery systems with the licensing system’s requirements.

The Department of Building and Housing will set national standards of competence for design and building in consultation with industry. We will work with industry training organisations and polytechnics to approve qualifications that match the competencies.

I encourage the building industry and education and training sector to respond.

- This article was first published in the BRANZ Ltd publication, BUILD (February/March 2005, page 42). For more information about BUILD or BRANZ Ltd, go to www.branz.co.nz [External website]. .