National plumbing regulators forum 2011

The National Plumbing Regulators Forum (NPRF) held its first conference in two and a half years at the Melbourne Convention Centre, bringing industry leaders and experts together to present and discuss topics that directly affect the plumbing industry. Jonathan Jackson reports on three days of plumbing relevance.

In his welcome address, NPRF chair Shayne La Combre states: “There is no doubt that the changes to the plumbing landscape in recent years pose many challenges to an industry committed to the health and wellbeing of our community. While we are in the recovery phase of recent earthquakes, the important role that effective plumbing systems play in the amenity of daily life has never been more apparent.

“Over the next three days there will be presentations on areas such as the national registration and licensing model, one of the most significant changes to the plumbing industry in recent times. There will also be presentations covering industry outlook and what we might expect in relation to performance over the horizon.”

Over the duration of the conference presenters looked at important issues including sustainability and its connection with the plumbing industry, globalisation, innovation and technology and technical changes.

An education
Day one was all about the educators. The day kicked off with an opening address by Nick Chiam, director of Apprenticeships, Traineeships and Youth Skills Victoria. Following Nick was Joan Whelan. Initially the presentation was to be given by Alan Ross, the CEO, Construction and Property Services Industry Skills Council (CPSISC). However, Joan who has over 20 years experience working in the Vocational Education and Training sector, gave an overview of CPSISC’s projects and achievements and discussed the relationship between this organisation and RTOs, as well as the need for training packages.

Past Plumbing Connection contributor Lyle Kelson was next. Lyle is the chair of the National Plumbing and Services Training Advisory Group (NPSTAG) and gave an overview of NPSTAG’s achievements during the course of the last couple of years. There is much to like about what NPSTAG does in relation to making technical information available top both students and teachers.

Danny Schwarz gave one of the most interesting presentations of the day. Danny is the education, industry and community development manager for Youth Connect and spoke about engaging new generations at work. In making his point clear about bridging the gap between older and younger generations of the workforce, Danny made available some interesting statistics: 26% of plumbers are between 35-44 years old, with only 16% below the age of 35.

While we have spoken about skills shortages in this magazine previously, Danny pointed out that there are 100,000 potential jobs, with no workers to fill them. He therefore raised an interesting question: how do we engage young people to become involved in the industry? One of the answers is to involve them before they leave school. This is a difficult task when you consider the average school leaver will have over five careers and 20 employers in their lifetime.

Tim Powers, who is founding partner of Altegis Group continued this discussion, while also touching on continuous professional development (CPD). He made mention that CPD is more than just going to school, it is about keeping up with the changing industry as well as community expectations and it is more than just experience. In fact, Tim’s statistics show that only 29% of plumbers think experience is enough to carry them through their career.

Tim made mention of the Career Pathways Project, designed to develop further CPD programs, however there are certain things to take into account that hinder CPD. These are cost, time, relevancy and worthwhile activities. While many plumbers favour CPD, including older plumbers, they are against mandatory courses.

The other important question raised by Tim is whether the industry is a closed shop that can attract new plumbers? Is this done through CPD, illustrating that there are many facets to the industry and many career pathways, or do you approach potential tradies while still at school to educate them properly about the benefits of joining the trade industry?

After lunch Tom Vassallo, the executive officer, curriculum maintenance building and construction at Holmesglen Institute, spoke about competency based completions project and pre-apprenticeship training.

Other topics during the course of the day included Victorian registration assessment process, Australian quality framework (which aligns high school learning with Certificate 2), qualification levels, development and moderation of question banks for Certificate 3 training and moderation and resource development for Certificate IV training. Certificate V in plumbing, blended delivery of apprenticeship training, NSW moderation of training, assessing overseas qualifications, Northern Territory Licensing, E-Learning in the ACT and resource development using Google and SketchUp.

Day one was summarised on the following day by Gary Bath, manager practitioner development for the Plumbing Industry Commission (PIC). Gary raised the issues of competency based completions, where all apprentices must be deemed as competent by the training provider and employer. He also spoke about specific training models, including flexible content and more thorough training systems that reflect strengths and weaknesses.

License to drive change
Once MC Andrew Klein and Shayne La Combre saw proceedings underway on day two, it was Senator Nick Sherry who began presentations. He spoke about State licensing and cost, pointing out that it will now cost a plumber $2,600 for a nationally relevant license which allows for work across the country. The broader license scheme to come into effect under the new National Construction Code should improve skills across the country; however there will be bumps in the road as certain practices from State to State require different skill sets to what some plumbers may have acquired. Having said that, the room for CPD is enormous.

Senator Sherry also spoke about an interim plumbing and gasfitting advisory, regulatory issues surrounding environmental plumbing , a national business name registry (which some plumbers pointed out may cause problems among businesses with similar names in different States) and safety versus regulatory efficiencies.

Julie Yeend of the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) Skills Task Force updated participants about its developments. COAG has been in charge of the National Occupational Licensing system, what the license will be, what it covers and what skills eligibility requirements will be. She mentioned that all licensing will be based on training packages and that licensing must follow training.

There will be three types of licenses: Supervised (incorporates Cert 3), Certifier (signs off on work and has Cert 3 and Cert IV competencies) and Contractor who must possess financial and probity requirements. If a tradie is trained in five competencies, he can work under those five work categories, meaning whatever you are trained in, you can be licensed in.

Some restrictions will be looked at to try to tailor to national consistencies. There will be a register that will record all licenses showing compliance and enforcement information. Julie did stress the point that even with national licensing there is still a need to understand local laws and regulations.

Finally, COAG is looking at the possibility for mandated training, but this will not spill into CPD requirements.
Leading into lunch Tasman Twyman, manager of the Australian Building Codes Board gave a National Construction Code update and explained that minimum standards will be set for design, construction and performance. Dane Roberts updated WELS (for a full report see Plumbing Connection Autumn 2011 edition) and Phil Payne, manager and executive officer, Plumbers Licensing Board, WA gave a State perspective about how the national changes will affect State regulations.

The post lunch session provided an industry outlook led by Harley Dale, chief economist at Housing Industry Association (HIA), Ken Gardner CEO of Master Plumbers and Sumit Oberoi a policy analyst for the Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors’ Association of Australia. All gave three excellent presentations while Sumit spruiked something Plumbing Connection has been on about for the past year – the importance of Building Information Modelling or BIM as it is more commonly known.

The final session of the day focused on sustainability in relation to plumbing regulatory policy. Dr Steve Cummings, research director Caroma Dorf kicked off proceedings with an update about AsFlow research. Focusing on research being conducted in a female urinal in a 24 storey building in West Australia, research found that with low flows (and lower possibly coming), the habit to use a lot of toilet paper posed significant dangers to the plumbing system. These problems were compounded by the different types of brand paper available. AsFlow tested several types of paper to find that there were differences in the quality of paper and their overall effect.

According to Alan Pears AM, an adjunct professor of Sustainability at RMIT we are facing challenging times, but also a time of opportunity. He believes that plumbing needs to adapt to rapidly changing sustainability policy. The industry also needs to adapt and streamline systems in the wake of natural disasters and should be held accountable for delivering workable sustainability outcomes. This means upgrading existing buildings and infrastructure and auditing how best to do this.

Due to policy change, more work and business opportunity is created, therefore there is a need to either upskill or reskill. More accountability is necessary as the complexity of installations increases and there needs to be a focus on upgrading, rather than just replacing like for like. This is vital to keep up with changing technologies. A switch to services and systems thinking will go a long way to solving the challenges created by ‘green’ policy.

Rounding out the day were Haydn Wood and Ian McNicol. Haydn is the manager of the PlumbSmarter Program and spoke about the pilot for the PlumbSmarter in My Home program. He made the point that plumbers are at the frontline of change and through the program can recommend to their clients ways of saving water and energy. The program offers plumbers the right framework of motivation and incentive to carry out these recommendations, which are not only good for their hip pocket and to build loyal custom, but good for the environment, also. (A full report about the PlumbSmarter program can be found on page… of this issue.) Ian is a senior analyst in energy efficiency for Sustainability Victoria. Following on from Haydn’s message, he spoke about upgrading the efficiency of existing houses.

Making an impact
Day three began with a video presentation by Robert Burgon. Robert, as many will know, is the chair of the World Plumbing Council (WPC). In the days before World Plumbing Day on March 11, Robert spoke about the impact of significant weather patterns on the plumbing industry, highlighting the need for ‘robust water systems’.

“Only when natural disasters occur, is there an understanding of how plumbing infrastructure is affected,” he says. “It is worse around the world, where there is a lack of access to basic plumbing facilities.”

Robert calls for better respect of plumbing systems, to create better health and economic conditions for less fortunate countries. Unfortunately, in many countries and regions including the United Kingdom, the plumbing contractor is low down in the supply chain.

“We need to urge plumbers to remember that they are health workers who play a big role in protecting the environment.”
Once plumbers respect what they do, this will filter through the building industry and into the community at large.

Dr Barry Gilbert gave an enormously entertaining and informative presentation about the public health costs of poor plumbing. He brought up points about the negativity towards using recycled water and how a change in attitude could solve health problems in third world countries. Some questions he raised include:
Will food quality and availability due to the scarcity of clean water impact on life expectancy?
What happens to people when they turn off electricity and water – what are the consequences of this on public health?
What is the cost of getting water initiatives wrong for individuals and systems?

Dr Gilbert made the point that water borne viruses will be more commonplace, particularly in the wake of current weather patterns, but also due to the carriage of these diseases through human and animal based carriers. It is therefore vitally important to ensure that communities have access to clean water to reduce public health costs that go beyond financial costs.

Professor Lidia Morawska is the director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at the Queensland University of Technology. Professor Morawska gave a highly technical presentation about indoor air quality and internal gas appliances and whether NO² affects gas appliances (what is in the air and where viruses and pollutants come from). To find out more go to

Chaired by Connection Magazines publisher, Jeff Patchell, the next part of the day covered innovation: technologies and materials for the house of the future. The three speakers in this section were Warwick Stannus of AG Coombs Consulting, who spoke about emerging technologies and materials, AIRAH’s Phil Wilkinson whose presentation covered emerging heating and cooling technologies and Phill Johnstone of the Department of Sustainability and Environment who covered storm water re-use and management in residential and industrial applications.

Warwick asked the very important question: what is driving innovation? According to Warwick it is a return to community living and passive design principles such as sun shades. He also advocates the use of durable, quality products that offer real time information to help monitor energy use. Phil looked at technologies that are already leaning towards this, particularly in the air conditioning space with such products as the air sourced heat pump, smart energy zones, indirect evaporative coolers and heat pumps and solar thermal cooling systems. Phill Johnstone finished the session with a look at trends in stormwater management from a waste to a resource. He is working with Monash University to investigate innovation in capture, integration of water sources and systems including bioretention and raingardens among other things. Essentially, he is focusing on performance and use as alternative methods of water capture and redirection.

TV star Jody Rigby (Backyard Blitz) undertook a quick Q&A with MC Andrew Klein about working as a tradie in a man’s world and the afternoon and conference was concluded with a series of technical sessions that dealt with compliance issues for new building code items such as water efficiency and energy efficiency, running a small plumbing business and men’s health.

The conference offered a great deal of interesting insights into new frontiers for the various aspects of the building and plumbing industries. Outside the conference hall was a mini expo where event sponsors and plumbing businesses were able to show and display their wares. Exhibitors included Caroma Dorf, Crane Copper Tube, ELWA, Energy Safe Victoria, IAPMO Oceana, L Gemmell, Pentair Water Australia, Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre, Plumbing Industry Commission, Studor Australia, Water Aid and Worksafe.

The three day conference finished with a gala dinner held at Crown Casino. The guest speaker was Rob Gell and entertainment provided by MC Andrew Klein and comedian and magician Ray Crowe.

The dinner marked the end of the conference and provided an ideal opportunity to celebrate the three days of diverse presentations on significant issues facing the plumbing industry today.

Two life-time achievement awards were presented with Bill Durham and John Park recognised for their outstanding contribution to the industry.

It was a terrific night of entertainment, food, refreshments, socialising and networking. The NPRF conference provides an excellent opportunity for those in the industry to network and learn. It is also an excellent forum from which to find out exactly what is going on in the plumbing industry and how changes will affect the industry moving forward.

Editor’s note: To view the full presentations go to

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