Licensing inevitable consequence of leaky building crisis

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The leaky building issue is one of those phenomenon you don’t wish on any industry, but some positive consequences resulted out of it, and I count the introduction of builder practitioner licensing as one of those. Minister for Building Issues Clayton Cosgrove confirmed the introduction of licensing at the RMBF’s annual conference recently. 

This will require designers, site leads/supervisors and key tradespeople to get licensed in the next five years so they can continue working in the industry. Licensing will help ensure those doing specified work in the industry have the right skills, competency and experience to do that work, which will be better for consumers, better for the industry and better for builders. 

It seems strange that the plumbing and electrical trades have been registered for some time, yet the trade that builds the “main event” — ie, the house — can be done by anyone regardless of their skill and competency to do the work. 

Licensing will not be compulsory in New Zealand for some years, but the introduction of optional licensing from November 2007 will be picked up by most industry leaders right from the start. Not all building work will need to be done by a licensed building practitioner. 

The Government has endeavoured to balance the implementation of licensing with work that can be done by less experienced people and/or by DIYers. So, only work that is “substantive” will need to be done by a licensed building practitioner, such as the design/building of a new home and extensive renovations to an existing home. 

Less substantial work, such as the remodelling of a kitchen or bathroom, the replacement of a wall of external cladding, or the addition of a low level deck won’t need a licensed building practitioners to do the work. 

If the Government wanted to ensure the best quality building work, they could have required all work related to the structural integrity of a building to have been done by a licensed builder. 

But New Zealand has a DIY culture, and the Government has allowed for a measure of DIY work as an exception to the building practitioner licensing regime. The RMBF will still encourage home owners contemplating renovation work to use licensed builders for the work. 

We believe it’s the best way for people to ensure they will get the quality building work they are looking for. As the industry works with the Government to implement the current suite of regulatory reforms, we need to think about the industry regulatory framework we want in five to 10 years’ time. 

As a direct result of the leaky building issue, we currently have a higher level of government involvement than what might be optimal in the longer term, and we would expect to see a swing back towards greater industry self-regulation at some point. 

The industry lost the opportunity to fix its own problems, given the magnitude and pace of the leaky building issue, particularly once the Prime Minister became directly involved in 2003. But once the current regulatory environment has settled down, I have no doubt the industry will start to encourage a debate back towards a higher level of self-regulation. 

For those that have some experience in the Government/ policy environment, they will be aware of the “policy pendulum” and how it can swing from side to side, despite best efforts to keep it “somewhere in the middle”. While the industry is generally strongly in support of the policy reforms the Government and officials have been working on, including licensing, there are some residual concerns. 

Risk averseness Ask any designer and builder what is affecting them today, and most will comment on the level of risk averseness across the whole sector, saying we are in danger of squeezing out innovation and introducing too much compliance cost. 

One of the positive consequences of the leaky building issue has been the renewed emphasis on builder training and qualifications. Look at those training with the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO). 

After hitting a disastrous low of only 800 trainees in the early 1990s, the BCITO can now boast to having nearly 9000 people in training towards a trade-related qualification. That has been a phenomenal growth curve, and the industry can, and should, be proud of how well it is “fixing” its previous training “hole”.