Licensed Builders and continuing education

The leaky homes debacle has given rise to some pretty seismic changes in the building industry. A fair chunk of the blame was, rightly or wrongly, put on so-called cowboy builders. The upshot is a Licensed Building Practitioners (LPB) scheme that is intended to ensure those who are doing “restricted” building work (i.e. building more than a rabbit cage) are suitably skilled.

As it happens there are seven different LBP classes: Design, Carpentry, Roofing, Bricklaying and blocklaying, Site, External plastering, Foundations, and All. Practitioners in each class must gain between 12 and 18 points within a specified time frame to retain their license.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has recently reviewed the scheme and has suggested a number of changes which came into effect on 2 November. They say,

“The review found that there are some credibility issues with the current scheme, including some LBPs doing activities that are not relevant to their licence class in order to earn the required number of points. The new framework seeks to move away from an entirely points-based system…It consists of both compulsory and elective activities.”

The new compulsory activities will consist of reading the MBIE’s Codewords newsletter (to make sure the LBP’s are actually reading the newsletter and not just looking at the pictures they will have to answer an online quiz) and identifying two examples of on-the-job learning over the two-year skills cycle. Elective activities include things like:

• Conferences
• Seminars and lectures
• Trade events
• A subscription to a trade magazines
• Performing a service to the industry
• Learning about workplace safety
• Mentoring
It’s all very earnest and well intended but one has to ask, is it going to make any worthwhile difference?

The reason I ask is because the scheme is not unlike that adopted by other “professions” where expertise is required – accountants, financial advisers, lawyers, etc.

From what I have seen, I doubt the requirement to accrue a prescribed number of credits has much beneficial impact on the actual skill level in an industry and the end consumer. What it does do is create an array of seminars, conferences, etc that are promoted as industry training when fundamentally the primary objective of those activities is the accumulation of credits with the least cost and inconvenience as possible.

This is how it generally goes. An industry body requires their members to accumulate say 12 credits a year. They hold an annual conference. Attending the conference earns say 10 points. The other 2 they can obtain by signing a declaration saying they have read the industry magazine or attended a BBQ put on by a trade supplier.

It’s great for the association and conference organisers because they can charge heaps for a two or three day conference at a place with a nice golf course. They are guaranteed a big turnout, even though the speakers are the same they had the previous year. It’s money in the bank for the association. They are really happy – they are important, and have made easy money. Who wouldn’t be happy about that.

The conference goers are happy too. All they need to do is turn up at the registration desk and sign in to bank 10 credits. Once they have done that it’s off to the bar to talk about the golf they are going to play over the next day or two. The more diligent ones stay for the drinks that evening, and then go home or back to work, knowing they have to put in a few more hours to recover the money they have just spent buying the credits.

It’s fair to say, not everyone goes off to the golf course. Some lounge around the swimming pool or go shopping. And some actually attend the conference. They are the same ones that have always attended and have probably invested in their own continuing education regardless of the need to accumulate credits.

There is no doubt having restricted trades increases the cost to consumers. What is in doubt is whether having a convoluted points scheme will have any recognisable benefit on skill levels. There are many who say returning to the days of on-the-job apprenticeships is a better way to go. They may be right.

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