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NZ Construction News: Tackling the quality crisis

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Over the last year there’s been a media storm around the alarming increase in substandard products and shoddy workmanship plaguing the construction industry. Many businesses are said to be taking on too much work, and in the competition to win contracts are operating with low and unsustainable margins, with some opting to use cheap, substandard products and low-cost labour to keep prices down.

Like the rest of the trades, electricians have been in the firing line following a number of high-profile stories, such as when large quantities of substandard and potentially dangerous electrical cable was fitted in multiple properties and needed to be removed and replaced.

While there are regulations, standards and legislation in place that electricians need to follow, there isn’t a great deal of scrutiny, according to NZ Trade Group (NZTG) general manager Andrew Jameson. “It is a requirement that all prescribed electrical work is signed off using a COC (certificate of compliance) or ESC (electrical safety certificate). However, there are often no routine checks that these have been completed.”

TACKLING THE ISSUES
Remarkably, Mr Jameson says, there’s currently no compulsory continual professional development (CPD) programme in place for electricians in New Zealand. “What
would also be of great assistance and value to the industry is a training index that helps sparkies find out what training is available to them,” he adds.

“Without knowing where to turn for assistance, many electricians feel like they’re in the dark. And often training sessions provided by product suppliers tend to focus more on promoting their own products rather than providing training on sales, installation and correct fit for purpose, product selection and advice.”

NZTG is tackling these issues for its members and taking it to another level with the introduction of its own CPD programme which commenced on 1 April this year. Mr
Jameson says feedback from the members so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
NZTG is a nationwide membership organisation made up of over 130 electrical businesses. It provides a number of benefits, including cloud-based quote and job management
software to optimise its members’ operations, collective buying power through its supplier network, collaborative networking to manage workloads, and a host of services including business training and education.

COMMITMENT TO QUALITY
A CPD programme is not compulsory at present for electricians in New Zealand, and NZTG will become the only provider of a structured CPD programme and training library for its electrical contractors. NZTG will also commence routine checks of members’ COCs to strengthen its commitment to quality.

“To be a member of NZTG, a contractor already has to meet certain ‘best practice’ standards, and our CPD programme takes that a step further again. We wanted to put higher standards in place than what the industry currently requires,” explains Mr Jameson.

Creating its own training sessions and working with its preferred suppliers, NZTG has put together a comprehensive CPD programme and has compiled a list of over 250 currently available training courses.

“We’ve assessed the quality of the training and put together everything contractors need to upskill their businesses – it’s all at their fingertips. We’ve worked closely with our preferred suppliers who are providing a lot of the training, so we know it’s all first-class. The CPD programme is set out in a simple-to-follow structure that helps everyone involved,” Mr Jameson says.

“The points programme consists of three categories: technical development, business competence and business/industry compliance. Each training unit is weighted based on a number of criteria. Member businesses need to complete at least seven points from each category, reaching a total of 21 points over a calendar year.”

The training formats include a mix of in-person workshops, online training and day-to-day best-practice and self-directed learning. It’s something NZTG hopes will catch on and become an industry standard.

RAISING THE BAR
Andrew Jameson says NZTG wants to raise the bar for the industry and set NZTG members apart from the rest by going the extra mile to let customers know that quality is paramount. “It helps to maintain and raise the calibre of our members and in turn helps strengthen their businesses.

We refer a lot of work and resources throughout the network, so this gives everyone involved the confidence that the people they’re referring work to will do the NZTG name proud,” he asserts.

“Alongside that, we have a genuine desire to look after the health of the industry, and we would be really happy to see other contractors follow suit with their own CPD programmes.”

Mr Jameson says there’s a strong business case for a CPD programme which teaches members about good business practices – doing what’s relevant and doing it properly. “Things like following health and safety programmes and reviewing insurance policies can often be overlooked at busy times, but not doing these things can have dire consequences for a business owner,” he adds.

“For example, there has been a lot of news recently about contractors and subcontractors not pricing jobs effectively and getting into financial trouble. NZTG helps skilled trade businesses become astute financial operators and plan for the future. Making money in a buoyant market is one thing, but what happens when the work slows down and the market becomes even more
competitive?

“Part of what we do is help our members plan for the future and diversify their skill set through training and partnering, which helps them get into the likes of data and automation. So while our CPD programme is going a long way to raising the bar for the industry and addressing the
publicised ‘quality crisis’, we’re also preparing our members for business beyond the boom.”