West Coast Training
Western Australia is often the forgotten state because of its sheer proximity to the eastern seaboard. That’s not to say their apprenticeship training methods are any less important or innovative. Justin Felix caught up with CEO Master Plumbers and Gasfitters Association of WA Murray Thomas to discuss what’s happening in WA.
As we have already discovered, training delivery methods vary greatly from state to state and the Master Plumbers Association and TAFE can either work in unison as they do in South Australia, or work completely independently as has been observed in Victoria and New South Wales. WA appears to sit somewhere in between.
“In the past MPA Skills has operated autonomously, as do most of the training providers in WA,” Murray says. “There have been attempts by RTO’s in WA to conduct moderation sessions where all providers come together to discuss, moderate and evaluate units of competency within the current national plumbing training package CPC08; unfortunately to date these sessions have not been as regular as the industry would like.”
At a recent meeting between MPA Skills and Polytechnic West (WA TAFE) a conscious decision has been made to develop a more thorough process where private and public providers communicate and work together to achieve the very best training outcomes at all campuses providing plumbing training.
The national training package is the same package across all state boundaries; where it differs is the number of ‘streams’ that are delivered. Also the number of nominal training hours differs across state boarders because every state has different funding arrangement via their individual governments.
In WA, streams or units of competency are: water, sanitary, drainage, gas and some roofing units.
This is a fairly common set of units across most state boundaries with the difference in Victoria being that they include a mechanical services unit.
MPA Skills also delivers post apprenticeship training courses which include:
- Plumbing Contractors’ Licence
- Backflow Prevention Licence
- Envirowest (Sustainable Plumbing)
- Migrant Gap Training Practices
- Gas Servicing
- Other short courses as and when required by the industry i.e. Working at Heights.
“MPA Skills is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and a Group Training Organisation (GTO). The difference between industry bodies and TAFE’s, we believe is the considerable advantages of having Field Officers who monitor the on the job performance of all our apprentices that MPA Skills employs,” Murray says
“Field Officers and Trainers communicate readily about the on and off the job components of students’ training. We also have the ability to transfer students between the housing, maintenance and commercial sectors ensuring, where possible, that MPA Skills apprentices have a vast range of skills upon completion.”
MPA Skills via its strong relationship with suppliers and manufacturers also stays at the forefront of new products and trends. It prides itself on the quality of its apprentices. Another major difference is its practical plumbing training facilities that feature hands‐on simulated training areas as seen by the attached photo of the sandpit and multi‐storey structure.
“Our training model consists of a very strong VET in Schools presence and delivers training in a variety of high schools around the state. We believe the model we offer is all inclusive with the students’ journey starting in Year 11 at school, through to the apprenticeship program, then time spent as a contractor and member of the Master Plumbers and Gasfitters Association of WA (MPGA), through to retirement (see the Life Cycle flyer).”
As previously stated, being an RTO and GTO as well as having a Board of Directors who remain in the industry, makes MPA Skills a truly Industry Based, Industry Focused, Industry Driven training provider.
“Our completion numbers are well above the national average with approximately 87% of students completing their term,” Murray explains. “As we know, apprentices need a vast support network to assist them through general life issues while ensuring that their training gives them the best chance possible to become well educated, from apprentice to contractor and to potentially run a professional and successful plumbing business.”
In WA when students complete their apprenticeship they apply directly to the Building Commission/Plumbers’ Licensing Board for a plumbing tradesperson licence. They also apply to the gas regulator, the Office of Energy Safety for their G Class gas permit (gas installation only). These are the standard conditions to work with the supervisor of a licensed contractor.
Should students want to become a plumbing contractor at this point, they can commence study on the 9 units of competency from the national training package, Certificate IV which have defined by the plumbing regulator in WA to achieve a contractors’ licence.
Apprentice numbers in WA have been steady with a slight percentage decline over the last 12-18 months; however, this is partly due to the decline in the mining sector in WA.
“The secret to maintaining student numbers is to ensure that we are training and planning 4 years ahead to understand the industry needs and to forecast employment needs as best we can.
“Industry associations are best placed to do this and the communication strategy between MPA Skills and the MPGA is an ideal model. NSW has a similar structure to its training delivery and it clearly works. Government should be encouraged to research this model and assist it in the future.”
To encourage more students to consider becoming tradespeople, the MPGA has introduced a clever program aimed at year 10 and 11 students. ‘Try‐A‐Trade’ day programs see students spend a day being introduced to the industry. The Construction Training Fund, who MPGA have a close working relationship with, fund and monitor the training initiative which as Murray describes, has been very popular.
In an effort to build and maintain strong apprenticeship numbers and a training model that works, Murray admits that continual work needs to be done.
“The MPGA is a strong believer in the apprenticeship training system as it is a tried and tested model; however, I would agree it needs to be innovative in the future to meet the needs of a new generation of learners.
Training deliver has to change as the days of ‘chalk and talk’ are well and truly over. Training delivery must be:
- Up with the latest training and assessment tools to ensure learners have the capability to advance or learn at their natural pace.
- Assessment of both off and on the job competencies at each year level is essential.
- Final assessment is also essential, by an independent assessor preferably, to ensure that the quality of apprentices remains at the highest level.
Murray has some words of wisdom for young plumbers and those considering a career in the industry.
“Having been a plumber and working in the plumbing industry all of my life, the times ahead are very exciting for any young person to embark on a career in plumbing and gasfitting. Times are definitely changing with modular construction, BIM design and ever increasing technologies.
“To the young plumber, ensure you are aware of what is happening around you, continue to be involved with your industry Associations and ensure governments don’t ever de‐regulate our industry.
“You are at the front line, ensuring high standards of sanitation and safe drinking water delivered straight from the tap for our community. Take your eye off the ball and it could be taken away in a blink!”
Master Plumbers & Gasfitters Association Western Australia