Mandatory CPD Is Coming
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for plumbers is currently mandatory in Tasmania, but voluntary in all other Australian states and territories. However, work is progressing to make CPD mandatory throughout the whole country. JOHN POWER investigates what mandatory CPD will mean for the wider plumbing community. Do we need it?
(This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Plumbing Connection.)
Mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – i.e., ongoing training throughout a worker’s career – is a familiar concept in the Australian workforce.
As stated in a recent discussion paper titled New Thinking on Continuing Professional Development1, “In Australia nearly 560,000 teachers, 104,000 lawyers, and 110,000 real estate agents are required to complete mandatory CPD, typically of between 10 to 20 hours each year. In NSW alone, around 500,000 workers are employed in professions subject to mandatory CPD.”
Other professions aligned to mandatory CPD in every state and territory include architectural services, builders and tradespeople, childcare services, dental services, pest controllers, surveyors, engineers, doctors, and veterinarians.
When we speak of CPD for plumbing, we are referring to independently approved, state/territory-administered, industry-specific training programs, courses, and activities that professionals must undertake on a rolling basis throughout their entire career.
Many Australian plumbers will be aware of voluntary CPD programs delivered by state/territory organisations like Master Plumbers Associations, and these programs are uniformly of excellent quality, with a heavy emphasis on technical relevance, genuinely meaningful content, topicality, and affordability. Generally speaking, these voluntary, plumbing-related CPD training programs have been based on a ‘points system’ (rather than hours of attendance) linked to particular courses and activities. Different courses carry different points values. To satisfy CPD requirements, practitioners must earn a minimum number of points over a designated time period – in Tasmania the requirement is 36 points every three years – in order to maintain or renew their licenses.
(For example, a two-hour online training course focusing on WaterMark updates might be worth three points; or a full-day seminar examining new technologies in backflow prevention might be worth four points; etc.)
Mandatory CPD, however, is far more complex than voluntary CPD in terms of its independent and impartial administration, statutory accountability, and duty of enforcement. In this feature, we will examine why we need mandatory CPD for plumbers, how state/territory-based schemes might be administered consistently in the absence of a national coordinator, and how mandatory CPD might actually help reinforce plumbers’ professional status in the public domain.
DO WE NEED MANDATORY CPD?
Yes. Whether we’re dealing with backflow prevention, protecting the community from water-borne diseases or toxins, or safeguarding public health in general, it is clear that the plumbing profession is at the frontline of civic welfare. Inadequate or substandard plumbing systems can be the difference between life and death. This heavy responsibility warrants some form of evidence-based assurance to the community that practitioners have an up-to-date knowledge of new technologies, regulations, and best practices. We wouldn’t be happy if our doctors never adapted to new drugs or treatments – or if we had to ‘take it on faith’ that they were doing so voluntarily – and the same expectation applies to plumbers. Mandatory CPD programs underscore the importance of plumbers’ work while offering peace of mind to customers, fellow practitioners, and the overall population.
A LONG TIME COMING
Pressure to create mandatory CPD programs for plumbers in Australia has a very long history. Perhaps the best state-based analysis was carried out in 2010 in a 100-page report prepared by the consultant Altegis Group for the Plumbing Industry Commission in Victoria. This report, Professional Development for Victorian Plumbers: Perspectives on Program Goals and Principles2, provides a solid overview of mandatory CPD and its proposed structures, with clear general applications across other state/territory jurisdictions.
The report notes widespread support, based on direct surveys at the time, for CPD training amongst plumbing professionals: “48% of plumbers ‘strongly support’ the idea of a CPD program, and overall 74% support it to some degree,” the report states. “This compares to 13% who oppose the idea, with another 13% in the middle3.”
While the survey sample in 2010 was split 50:50 on the question of whether CPD should be mandatory or voluntary, there can be little dispute that the industry has only become more sophisticated over the intervening 13 years, resulting in an even greater need to assure the community and colleagues that work is fully compliant, up to date, and representative of the latest methodologies.
WIDESPREAD REGULATORY SUPPORT
Murray Thomas, CEO of Master Plumbers WA, says there is widespread enthusiasm amongst plumbing peak bodies nationally to ‘get the ball rolling’ with mandatory CPD. The most recent impetus, he explains, was the Building Confidence Report, released in February 2018, representing the collective voice of the nation’s Building Ministers.
“There were 24 recommendations within their report, and one of the key recommendations – it was recommendation #1 – was about getting certain categories of trades, including plumbing, aligned to CPD,” Murray says. “So, plumbing has had CPD on its radar for some time.”
While plumbing CPD is already mandated in Tasmania (see details below) and NZ, states such as WA, Victoria, Queensland, and NSW are running highly respected voluntary CPD programs through their respective Master Plumbers Associations as stepping stones towards mandatory CPD.
“In terms of the national picture, we’ve always been keen to do it [adopt mandatory CPD], but when the Building Confidence Report came out in 2018, all of us in each state said it was really important for us to get moving.”
As far as implementation is concerned, Murray reminds us, there is no such thing as a national body overseeing CPD administration across the country. While regulatory national bodies like the ABCB endorse mandatory CPD in principle, he notes, it is up to the various authorities in each state and territory to implement and administer their own CPD programs.
In this regard, private education providers with a national or international focus have served a vital function, guiding the creation of harmonised, streamlined courses designed to (1) anticipate and curtail unnecessary duplications between states and territories; (2) bring consistency of quality and content to different coursework platforms; and (3) encourage smooth interchangeability of value between jurisdictions, allowing points earned from a course in one state or territory to be officially recognised in another.
As Murray explains: “In WA, for example, Michael Tomlinson from the private education provider Pointsbuild is a leader in this field. He has helped Tasmania put their CPD program together, and also assisted Victoria and Queensland with their CPD points. We’ve adopted that Pointsbuild model in WA. There are roughly 43 courses at the moment in our program, which are non-mandatory, of course. But we’re trying to get people into a ‘CPD culture’ so they can start thinking about what they need to know, and that can range from a short course on AS 3500 or WaterMark to a broad range of topics like Security of Payments.”
For more information about Pointsbuild, see the separate article below titled ‘CPD Implementation: The Pointsbuild Experience’.
Murray hopes a mandatory plumbing CPD program can be implemented in WA by 2025-2026.
TASMANIA LEADS THE WAY
Tasmania adopted mandatory CPD training for plumbers and gas fitters in 2016.
The structure and performance of Tasmania’s CPD program, therefore, serves as an important model of how CPD schemes might be rolled out in other states and territories.
The first thing to note is that the Tasmanian CPD plumbing program is overseen by Consumer, Building and Occupational Services (CBOS), which is the relevant government agency in charge of administering a host of CPD programs across different professions. Even though this government department is not a specialist plumbing peak body, its function as overlord of plumbing CPD affairs is absolutely necessary. Why? A large range of different providers, including RTOs (registered training organisations), peak bodies such as Master Plumbers Associations, private manufacturers, publishers, and others, are all entitled to offer comprehensive or targeted CPD courses, programs, or activities. While peak bodies such as Master Plumbers Associations might possess superior in-the-field knowledge of CPD courses and information requirements, they must still be accountable to a higher governmental authority to ensure impartiality and independence. It would be inappropriate for a Master Plumbers Association, for instance, to administer a state’s CPD program, because it would have to approve or disapprove its own CPD courses and modules as well as courses proposed by private companies or other ‘rival’ RTOs. A conflict of interest would be obvious, as would the inability of an Association to handle statutory functions like settling appeals against license cancellations, or resolving disputes involving challenges to the points allocated to individual courses offered by private companies, for example. Hence the need for a government agency to sit ‘above’ all CPD stakeholders.
In Tasmania, The Administrator of Occupational Licensing (the Administrator) is the relevant statutory officer under the Occupational Licensing Act 2005, and determines CPD requirements for Tasmanian occupational licence holders.
“If a licensed person fails to complete the required CPD during the relevant licence period, the Administrator may place conditions on a licence or refuse an application for renewal of a licence,” a CBOS spokesperson explained.
“Persons or organisations seeking to offer CPD courses in Tasmania must seek approval from the Administrator. CPD courses must be submitted for approval by the Administrator, and subsequently every two years, providing there are no major changes to the course content.”
According to the spokesperson, the Administrator determines the number of CPD points required by practitioners in a licensed period. At present, plumbers in Tasmania are required to achieve 36 CPD points over the course of a three-year licence, as determined by the Administrator.
This schedule “is considered appropriate and has worked well for several years,” added the spokesperson.
“CBOS undertakes regular monitoring, auditing and compliance of CPD requirements, and notes the overwhelming majority of Tasmanian licence holders comply with their CPD obligations.”
The agency has also expressed its intention to consult with industry should any future changes to CPD requirements be considered.
VICTORIA ON TRACK
The Victorian administrator is also keen to see a mandatory CPD program reinforce the professionalism of plumbing in the state.
The relevant administrative body overseeing CPD in Victoria is the Department of Transport and Planning (DTP).
A DTP spokesperson told Plumbing Connection that, “We are finalising options to introduce Continuing Professional Development requirements for plumbing and building practitioners to ensure they demonstrate continued competency throughout their professional careers, not just at initial registration or licensing.
“Draft regulations will be released for public consultation later this year.”
A Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) assessing options to introduce mandatory CPD requirements for Victorian building and plumbing practitioners is nearing finalisation.
Draft regulations reflecting the proposed CPD requirements are also in development.
To inform the preparation of these documents, an extensive stakeholder engagement process was conducted, firstly through public release of a CPD consultation paper in 2020, and subsequently through a series of policy workshops in 2021 with key industry and government stakeholders, and building and plumbing practitioners.
Input from these workshops, together with submissions to the Consultation paper in 2020, have been used to develop final options for assessment through a RIS and draft Regulations.
Finally, the spokesperson said that to ensure industry has enough time to prepare for the introduction of CPD, implementation will be carefully considered, and requirements to start undertaking CPD activities will not commence until at least six months after the regulations are made.
Other states and government agency partners are at varying stages of development of their own mandatory CPD programs.
In NSW, for instance, work is well underway at Master Plumbers Association of NSW (MPA NSW) to formalise a high-quality program – see the separate story below by MPA NSW CEO Nathaniel Smith.
YOU’RE A PROFESSIONAL
There are some plumbers who might resent the idea of enforceable, ongoing education. The reality, however, is that mandatory CPD is reserved for professional services that carry the prestige of civic importance. In the case of plumbing, a formal undertaking to remain relevant and technically up to date is something the community deserves and wants. Rather than being resentful of joining a community of elite health-related or top-end business professions, savvy plumbers should regard mandatory CPD as a badge of honor.
In any case, most professional plumbers are already doing some form of CPD – perhaps without even realising it! – as part of their day-to-day working lives. Mandatory CPD simply formalises the process.
In coming years, we at Plumbing Connection will publish updates about the rollout of mandatory state/territory CPD schemes as they occur.
- New Thinking on Continuing Professional Development, NSW Productivity Commission, December 2022.
- See Professional Development for Victorian Plumbers: Perspectives on Program Goals and Principles.
- Page 9.
THE FUTURE OF CPD IN NSW
From Nathaniel Smith, CEO, Master Plumbers Association of NSW
A mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program for plumbers in NSW would benefit the plumbing industry by ensuring that professionals are up-to-date with the latest advancements, regulations, and practices. It would enhance skills, promote safety, encourage innovation, and maintain high standards, ultimately improving service quality and customer satisfaction.
How would it be rolled out? Either Service NSW or the Office of Fair Trading would oversee CPD programs for plumbers. They are responsible for approving and disapproving various courses or programs from different bodies or organisations and allocating points values.
Master Plumbers Association NSW (MPA NSW) has been discussing this and many other issues with other industry peak bodies in reference group meetings regarding the introduction of [mandatory] CPD and its effect. MPA NSW would ensure their courses meet the requirements and provide valuable educational content for plumbers.
‘Hot topics’ that plumbers are most likely to pursue as part of their CPD obligations may include advancements in plumbing technology, sustainable plumbing practices, safety regulations and updates, energy-efficient systems, and innovative plumbing techniques. These areas reflect the evolving landscape of the plumbing industry and the need for plumbers to stay updated with the latest practices and knowledge.
While it is difficult to provide a precise timeframe, assuming CPD becomes mandatory for plumbers in NSW, programs may likely commence within the next 1–2 years. This timeline allows for the necessary regulatory processes, consultations, and implementation plans to be implemented. However, it is important to note that this estimate is subject to change based on government decisions and the pace at which new policies are implemented.
Plumbers should stay informed through official channels such as MPA NSW to be aware of any updates regarding the commencement of CPD programs, and the best way to achieve that is by signing up for MPA NSW membership today! Visit masterplumbers.com.au
Nathaniel Smith is CEO of Master Plumbers Association NSW. He has worked in plumbing, politics (former State Member for Wollondilly), and is familiar with private and public advocacy.
AT A GLANCE: MANDATORY CPD
Administration: All mandatory CPD programs will be run and administered at a state/territory level, overseen by relevant government departments.
Delivery: Any private or public entity can offer CPD programs (including online coursework) or activities, providing the programs are approved by respective state/territory government administrators.
Points values: Courses and activities will carry points values, as determined by respective state/territory government administrators.
Requirements: It is likely plumbers will be required to accrue 36 points worth of accredited courses or activities every three years.
Enforcement: Plumbers will need to demonstrate CPD compliance as a condition of their licence renewals.
Implementation: Already mandatory in Tasmania, the rest of the country is likely to adopt mandatory CPD for plumbing within the next few years.
CPD IMPLEMENTATION: THE POINTSBUILD EXPERIENCE
A number of CPD plumbing programs (both mandatory and voluntary) have already been implemented throughout Australia with the support of Pointsbuild, which is an Australian training company specialising in online education and professional development internationally, often in conjunction with membership bodies, industry associations and professional organisations.
We asked Managing Director MICHAEL TOMLINSON to describe Pointsbuild’s existing and prospective CPD work in the plumbing sector…
Q: What is Pointsbuild, and what is your experience with training programs for plumbers in Australia?
A: On the back of changes to the NSW Legislation for builders, Pointsbuild launched in late 2007, and became one of the first online CPD providers for the building industry.
Since then, we have grown to become a leading provider of online CPD programs for a range of trades and professions in the building, construction, and trades industries. We now offer over 180 online courses and deliver over 300,000 courses each year.
A key part of our service has been offering online self-paced CPD courses for plumbers.
We offer courses to plumbers and the plumbing industry both directly as well as in partnership with a range of state and territory Master Plumbers Associations, including Master Plumbers Tasmania, WA, Victoria, and Queensland.
Q: You have already partnered with the Master Plumbers Association of Tasmania to deliver their mandatory CPD program in line with state government requirements. How have plumbers received the program?
A: The online CPD programs have been very well received. We have been working in partnership with the Master Plumbers Association of Tasmania for over six years now, delivering over 10,000 online courses to their members. The courses for plumbers have been vetted and approved by the Tasmanian Government’s CPD Program.
Q: Mandatory CPD programs are complex, requiring the endorsement of private industry and peak bodies, as well as the approval of state/territory government agencies that have ultimate oversight of their respective programs. How do you balance the administrative requirements of these diverse stakeholders?
A: There are a myriad of CPD schemes within the wider building and construction industry – from industry association-led schemes (for example requiring CPD to be done to maintain membership) to state or territory administered schemes); these schemes do range from very simple to quite complex. Our position has been to produce high-quality online courses and content that can be applicable to a range of schemes.
Quite often the reporting obligations (of the license holder and of the CPD provider) can also be a burden. We would very much welcome consistent reporting obligations across jurisdictions.
Q: Can an international company like Pointsbuild help to provide consistency across CPD programs in different state and territory jurisdictions? Does consistency matter?
A: Consistency matters greatly; with a federated system of regulation of trades across Australia – many jurisdictions use different terminology for different things (a simple example in CPD Schemes is CPD Points or CPD hours; or Formal or informal CPD).
Q: Do CPD programs need to be reviewed continually to reflect ongoing technical and regulatory changes, and to stay relevant to plumbers in the field?
A: Yes – we are a firm believer that CPD programs need to be regularly reviewed to reflect change. This can include changes to codes and standards (for example, the National Construction Code is updated every three years – the most recent version came into effect earlier this year), changes to technologies (both building, construction and plumbing technologies as well as new learning and education technologies to delivery better learning experiences and outcomes).
Q: The plumbing sector is undergoing a regulatory ‘busy time’, with attention focused on topics like a reduction in the use of gas, the switch to lead-free products, the adoption of new technologies such as heat pumps, etc. What are the hot topics in today’s CPD programs for plumbers?
A: The three hottest topics for 2023–2025 would have to be: (1) retrofitting for delivering Net Zero Energy in residential homes, (2) updates to NCC and to the main plumbing standards (AS/NZ 3500), and (3) updates to worker, health and Safety (WHS) regulations.
Q: Would Pointsbuild be in a position to work with state/territory peak bodies and government agencies to implement mandatory CPD programs across the country?
A: Yes, very much – we are in constant dialogue with a range of industry bodies (we are already working with over 20 of them), as well as over a dozen state or territory regulators.
Michael Tomlinson is Managing Director of Pointsbuild. He has 20+ years’ experience in the Education/Training, Information Technology, and Innovation sectors.
Visit pointsbuild.com.au or call 1300 892 829.