Training on the Go
Also disappearing is the commitment/ability of smaller plumbing firms to directly hire full time apprentices due to the absolute employment cost, in a business environment that, for many, has a faltering forward work book. In this case, the salvation has been the group training schemes – and even they need to be run at a profit/break-even.
At least with the group scheme, the potential apprentices are far better screened than in the past when a family member or kid from down the street was taken on just because he was ‘a nice kid’.
The days of cookie-cutter training held in suburban and major regional areas is disappearing too, as it takes a sizeable budget to set up a plumbing department infrastructure and the ongoing cost of consumables is a cost most other TAFE training avoids.
A number of previous Governments have played around the edges with Trade Super Schools and the like, only to see new incoming Government’s change policies. Then the investments go up in smoke.
For the past decade we’ve also been living through a period of significantly increased post-trade training. And this will continue as new technology, regulation and environmental protection measures are introduced.
But it is increasingly difficult to get tradesmen off the job and into a facility for this necessary training.
What the industry is learning in certain quarters is that the post-trade training needs to be taken to the market, to make it accessible and affordable, as well as limiting the investment in infrastructure required.
Over the next couple of editions of Plumbing Connection we’re taking a look at what is happening in the area of apprenticeship and post-trade training around the nation.
With this issue we kick start the overview in Melbourne and Sydney with two industry led facilities providing alternative training to the traditional TAFE system. In the next issue we’ll move onto the other states to provide a national overview.
Master Plumbers College of Excellence, NSW
The Master Plumbers and Mechanical Contractors Association NSW have created a specialist skills centre to pursue excellence in training. The Skills Centre is operated by MPA Training; a Registered Training Organisation and is currently delivering the full traditional five stream Certificate III in Plumbing.
“In 2006 the Master Plumbers Association made a decision to delve into trade training which was a very heavy decision to make,” explains Paul Naylor, General Manager of Master Plumbers Association NSW.
“We needed to decide where we were heading and how we would become an industry player. It was decided that we needed a ‘cradle to grave’ philosophy. The part of the cradle that we were missing was the apprenticeship training so we applied for a place on the Approved Provider List in NSW which was granted. This means MPA NSW gets paid by the government to deliver training in the same way that TAFE institutes do with the difference being, we receive a lot less money and have to meet our own capital cost.
“After being listed on the Approved Provider List, we went to the Federal Government and applied for a grant under the infrastructure training fund. Then we were faced with the task of finding a suitable site. After much deliberation and searching (almost two years) we virtually ended up in the geographical centre of Sydney in Auburn.
The Master Plumbers College of Excellence operates in a manner that not only supports the industry with professional development but re-engages the plumbing contractors who have given up training apprentices by consulting with them in the training process and encouraging their involvement in the training process.
“In three years we have trained similarly to the TAFE system; however, this year we are completely changing the model. Apprentices cost a lot of money to have so our group members are seeing great value in providing input into what is being taught. Employers want to know what apprentices have learnt, what they are currently learning and what they can do to help to ensure the best outcome.
“You don’t get productivity if the kid doesn’t learn. For an employer we will have kids from Master Plumbers Apprentices Limited (MPAL) and from our group members. We have received plenty of interest and it is our expectation that by the beginning of 2016 we’ll have between 350-400 apprentices in here,” Paul says.
MPA Training delivers a traditional program which draws competencies from all five streams – rather than four like TAFE NSW – so as to train apprentices in the wider scope of plumbing services. Plumbing covers educational streams in the following:
• Water (including some fire units)
• Sanitary Drainage
• Roof Plumbing (not offered at TAFE in NSW).
“We have decided to offer two separate learning streams for our apprentices. One will be in plumbing and one will be in gas fitting. The apprentices will start in either and then come back together to complete the other subjects.
“This is the traditional trade pathway we see in NSW because our members want apprentices who can do roof plumbing. We are also able to deliver a separate Certificate III in gas and roof plumbing. We intend to expand that this year into some trainee programs in drainage, urban irrigation and a course in the fire protection area for the certification in things like hydrant hose reels and fire extinguishers that we are looking at delivering. We need to broaden and become more of a focus on industry demand.
“We very much value the cost of training and our role is to not just think about what we have to do today or tomorrow but what we will need to achieve in four years time. We don’t just simply class manage and if we have students who stand out we will case manage them. If kids are excelling, we don’t want to drain them with things they already know,” Paul says.
The other important thing to note about this skill centre is the fact that it’s not just about apprenticeship training. It is owned by the industry for the industry, hence industry training is provided.
“Companies who don’t have their own training facilities can hire ours and that creates even greater exposure for us as more contractors walk through our doors and see the facilities on offer. We only have one fixed structure in the whole building meaning everything else is mobile. This makes the space more versatile. At the end of the day this place will be whatever the members want it to be. We don’t have anyone looking over us, telling us how things need to be done which is great.
MPA currently has funding for what they call the Bridging the Gap program. It is similar to a pre-ap program that only runs for three weeks; however, it differs significantly from TAFE’s pre-apprenticeship course. MPA is interested in finding out the motivation for why the apprentices want to become a plumber.
“We want to know about their hand skills and we want to introduce them to the world of plumbing. Every day, every one of them gets assessed for their motivation. We have been using a terrific tool for assessing motivation developed from a company called Apprentice Central from Queensland. We choose kids of various levels – top, middle and bottom. The test has told us what we already knew about their motivation – it has reflected exactly what the trainers have observed.
“I need to know who is going to make it and who is here for the right reasons because the cost to industry to train a kid for two years who then walks away is immense. This is why we believe motivation is a key determining factor. This pre-approval process can take up to two months. We aren’t in any rush to decide who we accept here.
“I’m looking to train the next lot of members. Most of the apprentices here have an aspiration to be a contractor, they want to run their own business and that’s fantastic.
It is well known by the Association, that for many rural and regional plumbers there are ‘no’ real learning choices when completing training as a plumber. The choice is whether to leave the various rural and regional localities to complete their non-trade training as a licensed plumber to become a contractor. Following completion of this training, they rarely return to the regional areas, thus further pressuring the skills shortage.
It is the Association’s intention to address this problem so that regional plumbers can work and train in their regional localities and when required to attend an assessment or examination that this is done in such a way to substantially reduce the travelling time lost time to ensure NSW regional localities have a reliable supply of plumbers in training.
MPA TRAINING FOCUS
• New Apprentice Entrants to the Plumbing and Services Industries including apprenticeships, primarily in Certificate III in Plumbing.
• School-based Apprentices in Plumbing, Draining and Gasfitting.
• Existing Workers being retrained in new and emergent technologies. This training would include training in courses already in existence such as a course in Sustainable Plumbing Practices (91141NSW) and courses yet to be developed including a course in the installation and maintenance of Grey Water Systems.
• Existing Workers wishing to complete the Certificate III in Plumbing and Certificate IV in Plumbing (Operations) leading to the issue of a plumbing contractor’s license.
• Workplace Health and Safety Training for new entrants and existing workers requiring training in Workplace Health and Safety (fee for service courses to be developed such as Safe Work Method Statements, Safety Management Systems, Entry into Confined Spaces and Working at Heights).
• Master Plumbers Association of NSW (MPA NSW) is currently working with the Fire and Protection Association of Australia to provide specialist training in up-skilling plumbers for fire protection and alarm panel works especially in relation to Nursing Home upgrades and retrofitting.
The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre (PICAC) is a unique industry led training facility in Brunswick, Melbourne. The centre is a 5 Star Green Star rated building and is a working example of innovative design and sustainable plumbing. PICAC is an industry partnership supported by the Plumbing Trades Employees Union, Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia, National Fire Industry Association, Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association, United Association and Plumbing Joint Training Fund.
PICAC is a practical training centre for the plumbing industry that offers integrated education and training programs in cutting greenhouse gas emissions through greater energy efficiency, saving water and generally addressing the key issues around climate change and the sustainability of our buildings. Through providing access to a training resource without peer, the plumbing industry is taking up the challenges of new technology, risks and approaches.
“The training model in Australia has typically seen an educational institute consulting with people from industry to work out what has to be delivered which is different to North America and some parts of Europe but we are starting to head down that same alternate path,” Shayne La Combre, Chief Executive Officer, PICAC explains.
Do you have educationalists coming in and saying we’ll get a bit of input from industry and deliver training or does the industry gather some training capacity of its own and deliver it as they know what is best for the industry? That is the question that PICAC pondered over before embarking on the journey into industry training.
“We can’t see a long term future in the educational institutes trying to determine what the industry requirements are due to time lag. The difficulty for the bigger training institute is that by the time they communicate with industry and identify a gap and then put something into practice it is usually out of date or too late. This is being compounded by the fact that the industry changes at an incredible pace. There are technology concepts that didn’t exist two years ago. The line of minimum competence is constantly moving up and our industry’s culture is often one that is not overly proactive in continually updating that competence and that is something we need to change.”
“As an industry we know what we need in terms of competency development – we cannot afford to be guessing or relying on… but that’s what we’ve always done. The continued deterioration in quality of training in traditional institutes and the cost and effort required to move that up to a standard that would be acceptable to industry is now, in our view, not achievable. We believe that a preferred model is industry led training run on a not-for-profit basis which is delivered at the highest possible level. Our aim at PICAC is to provide high level excellence in training in the hope this will eventually trickle down into other institutes or lead to more collaboration with industry trainers like ourselves. There is no hiding the fact that we want to become market leaders.
“To be fair it needs to be recognised that TAFE institutes compete internally for resources and plumbing is expensive to teach. It consumes a lot of materials and can be hard on training infrastructure. Significant expenditure is required to teach it because you could be pulling a training structure down after six months once the class has moved on. Where you have something as fundamental to public health and safety as plumbing is and you have a lot of economic inefficiency by not having people competent in the field, why would you make it competitive? Why do you have Registered Training Organisations competing with each other with no real sense of collaboration around fundamentals like resource development?”
In order for PICAC to offer the best possible training to the industry, it looked has looked around nationally and abroad for inspiration and a successful platform that it, in part, could emulate.
“You suffer a little bit from isolation in this country. I would have sworn black and blue that the training provided in Australia was up there with the best in the world, if not number one. In saying that, we have thought for a long time that our training could be better. When looking at the USA the first thing you notice is scale. The United Association (UA) has 70,000 apprentices. Their sheer size and what they are able to generate and put into training is incredible. Their training budget is over $300,000,000 a year. Every major city has an industry run school equivalent to PICAC, if not bigger,” Shayne explains.
“Once our chairman saw what could be achieved with a real industry collaborative commitment to training that is resourced appropriately, it was always going to be something we would aspire to replicate here. That is why we have formed partnerships with the UA and the U.S industry. We are leveraging off that relationship, not to necessarily go through the development phase of resourcing but to adopt various practices from them that they are doing well. You obviously can’t just pick up their gas training manual and use it here but we can use their approach to online training. If it is good and suitable for use here, then we don’t see a need to reinvent the wheel,” Shayne continues.
“It has really inspired the vision here. Initially we thought of this centre as a way to bring industry up to speed with sustainability but now it is about discovering what excellence in training looks like in this industry. It is not just about training but what support the industry needs. Training is certainly an important aspect and we are furthering our training delivery across the number of courses and requirements of industry but also across the plumbing lifecycle. On top of that there are things that don’t have a training outcome such as a change of technology, regulatory shift or a risk that previously didn’t exist.”
The main competitive advantage that Shayne sees in Australia over its overseas counterparts is the fact that, conceptually at least, everyone is a licensed plumber. That means a notional level of competency should be reached before entering the trade. There is no this equivalent in the States so where we generate our competitive advantage is through everyone reaching a minimum competency they are making their workforce attractive by being more trained and competent than the alternative.
As well as continuing training in advanced areas of plumbing, PICAC have already started with pre-apprenticeship courses and apprentices are the next space.
“With a large number of the stakeholders already involved in group schemes; there is an existing population of potential apprentices to draw on. We have a real opportunity to set up a life-long learning cycle. Starting with the Certificate II students who, if they work well they will set themselves up for industry opportunities as we expose them to the key employers. It becomes a system well beyond training – we are developing an industry career. The moment the apprentices enter Cert II we have contractors watching. They have had input into what needs to be covered so they know what to expect from the graduates,” Shayne says.
PICAC wants to significantly increase its scale so it has a direct delivery to a greater portion of the industry. As such it is expanding to two more sites in Geelong and Dandenong as well as facilitating mobile training delivery. Mobile training has been used effectively in the U.S for a long period of time and PICAC had to verify that it could be done legitimately here.
“Mobile training is a new endeavour for us so we are trialling it to see what works at the moment. The portable chassis’ are moveable, not only within our building but can be taken offsite too. We understand that rural plumbers want extra training but are often find distance and travelling difficult. If there are four or five plumbers on one site that need training, we can travel to them to deliver it. The movable pods also provide us with a more versatile training facility at PICAC. Rather than having to dedicate certain areas to a particular module that rarely gets used, we have more options per square metre as things can be moved around. Mobile training delivery will make us more sustainable and contemporary and that’s important.”
TRAINING AT PICAC
Those who design install and maintain plumbing and mechanical systems in our current and future building stock can access our cutting-edge training, including:
• Green building developments and Greenhouse Gas emission strategies including new and innovative industry developments like chilled beam and ceiling technology, hydronic heating and other heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) initiatives such as tri generation.
• Rainwater harvesting, water treatment and re-cycling
• Solar systems for commercial and residential buildings
• Environmental sustainability
• OHS and high risk licences
• Business development
PLUMBING’S EDUCATIONAL PATHWAY
CERTIFICATE II (Pre-apprenticeship Course)
A pre-apprenticeship course that introduces basic skills and knowledge for the Certificate III in Plumbing. Students learn:
• Safe working conditions and basic emergency life support
• Plumbing tools, equipment and materials
• Technical drawings, numeracy and calculations
• Principles of sustainability
• Identifying employment opportunities in the plumbing industry
• And much more.
CERTIFICATE III IN PLUMBING (Apprenticeship)
An apprenticeship course providing trade qualification training and support; classroom and work-based tasks focusing on practical ‘job ready’ skills including:
• Specialist streams: water, sanitary, drainage, mechanical services, roofing and gas services (number of streams varies from State to State)
• Comprehensive on-the-job experience, manual skills and team work.
When apprentices complete Certificate III they are eligible to apply to become a registered plumber.
To do the Certificate III you’ll need to find an apprenticeship.
CERTIFICATE IV IN PLUMBING AND SERVICES
A qualified plumbing service tradesperson who will work as an independent contractor in the plumbing industry in either:
• Plumbing and Services – Operations, or
• Air Conditioning and Mechanical Services.
Certificate IV also prepares students for licensing requirements.
POST-TRADE TRAINING OPTIONS
• Green plumbing
• Rainwater harvesting, water treatment and re-cycling
• Solar systems for commercial and residential buildings
• Environmental sustainability
• OHS and high risk licences
• Business development
• Advancements in fire protection
• And more to come…
Master Plumbers Association of NSW