We’ve come a long way from the days when if you had a ute, a radio and a dog, you were qualified to be a chippie. But in spite of registration schemes, upskilling and a raft of new regulations to keep the construction industry in line, experts say there are still too many builders in business who have gaps in their skill sets.

Now there’s a plan to do something about that. 

New Zealand Certified Builders wants to launch a scheme to upgrade the skills of busy builders by taking the training to them. The move was sparked by its concerns over “build quality and basic construction principles which were not cutting through to building sites”.

A pilot carried out in Waikato and parts of Auckland that ended in January has been declared a success, and now funding is being sought to expand it. The NZCB says while builders who are members of either of the two building trade associations (NZCB and Registered Master Builders) receive ongoing training as part of their membership package, about a third of all builders in the country are not a member of either association. This Building Insites scheme aims to deliver on-site training to anyone who asks for it, regardless of affiliation. 

NZCB chief executive Grant Florence says the scheme is timely as the problems of an industry under pressure kick in. The country’s building boom has been great for the industry’s bottom line, but clients are increasingly feeling the rough edge of the rush. When that door is still sticking a week after the big renovation, just try getting your builder back. “They’ve moved on to the next job, because at the moment, there’s always a next job. There’s a growing concern around building quality, because when [the industry] is very busy, quality does tend to drop,” he says. 

The pilot programme, in conjunction with BRANZ, was run over five months using “wise old heads” in the trade who were happy to step away from the tools for a bit and share their knowledge. “The building industry is ageing so we have members who are happy to mentor and train,” says Florence. “They’d like to give something back.” They visited over 50 residential building sites, reaching more than 450 builders. 

Trailers were fitted out with the necessary equipment and driven to building sites, the educators aiming for tea breaks. One problem area where a lot of complaints come from is window installation, another common issue is the installation of frames around the edges of concrete slabs. Get either of those wrong and it means leaks. Florence says after some demonstrations you’d get builders admitting they’d been installing windows for 20 years without using best practice methods.  

Direction on what skills were lacking came from council building inspectors. In Auckland at the moment about 25 percent of building inspections fail. That’s a significant improvement from the 40 percent of two years ago, when the Auckland Council was lamenting the lack of skilled professionals in the city to service the demand, saying some builders are skimping on quality.  The council’s inspections manager, Jeff Fahrensohn says they have done a lot of work with the industry since then to ensure work is ready to be inspected when site visits are made. There has been increased awareness of building code requirements, and the industry continutes to upskill. 

One of the council’s tips for building inspections is to check that your builder is a registered Licensed Building Practitioner before you get any work done. 

Ironically you don’t have to have qualifications to be a registered LBP, which is something that irks NZCB. Florence says the industry has had ongoing talks with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment over it, and minister Nick Smith is sympathetic. “Up until the licensing initiative, anybody could become a builder – there was a low barrier to entry,” he says. 

“If you had a ute, a radio and a dog you could become a builder.”

Florence says introducing licences put a line in the sand, but the industry would like that line moved up and standards improved further. In the meantime, it’s hoped the Building Insites scheme will help improve standards, despite what NZCB describes as “the weakness of the regulatory framework”. 

Florence points out there are rules and regulations in place designed to protect customers – but he says most people don’t seem to know about them. For example, any work worth more than $30,000 must have a written contract drawn up. A recent NZCB survey found more than half of homeowners doing big renovations had no such contract. “People have massive levels of trust in their builders,” he says. “If you go and buy a cell phone you sign a contract but it’s not unusual for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work to be done without one. It’s crazy.” 

He says clients should also ask for references and check them, check their builder belongs to a recognised trade organisation, and check they are a licensed builder. 

Leave a comment