Article: Speak Easy

Builders Can Now Get Microcredentials. Have We Set The  Bar Too Low? with Michael BoturBuilders Can Now Get Microcredentials. Have We Set The Bar Too Low? with Michael Botur

Recently I mused on the panic around the skills shortage in NZ which has seen tens of thousands of overseas workers let into NZ on building visas. 
I suggested a big increase in the starting wage for NZ-raised builders, but money isn’t everything. We shouldn’t lower the bar too much in terms of how skilled a builder needs to be.

I’ve been at the coal face of efforts to keep builders qualified enough to practice – in 2009 I taught literary and numeracy to modern apprentices completing their Building & Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) qualifications. You have to know your maths, science and English to be a competent tradie and yes, that includes knowing trigonometry. Yes, remembering SOHCAHTOA is excruciating, but it’s important for building frames – y’know, those structures that actually hold the house up?

Last summer the Northern Advocate reported on whether the builder labour shortage has been affecting builds in the north, and quoted the Registered Master Builders Northland chair as pointing out that despite demand to get homes completed sooner, people cannot “just be taken off the street to work on a building site” because of the essential training, including safety.

So, is the requirement for qualifications getting in the way of getting builds completed? Is being able to learn on the job not enough? Is expecting a tradie to endure an apprenticeship for a minimum of three years too high an expectation?
The BCITO appears to think so, so they’ve got behind ‘microcredentials’ – which they refer to as ‘Managed Traineeships.’ Here are the facts behind this qualification system which seems to translate as ‘small qualifications.’

• The NZ Qualifications Authority – which set them up in August this year – calls
  them microcredentials and they were designed with builders in mind who are
  working on modular construction, in particular. This means that even the job
  of a carpenter these days is “split into someone specialising in certain aspects,”
  according to BCITO’s CEO Warwick Quinn. “The supply and install model is
  common, e.g. supplying and installing windows or wall linings. Micro-credentials
  provide a way of recognising the unique skill sets this segmentation triggers and
  allows trainees to specialise in their area of practice.”

•  BCITO agrees there’s a need because, in Quinn’s words, for some youngsters
    “The thought of going into a four year programme may be daunting. However,
    completing a micro-credential may be an alternative option that encourages more
    into construction than we might otherwise have had.”

•  At 5 to 40 credits, micro-credentials focus on skill development opportunities not
    currently catered for in the tertiary education system.

It all sounds cool, don’t get me wrong. And, having worked with apprenticeships who love their job but struggle with literacy and numeracy, I think we should do something to scoop them up and get them through. It’s just that tertiary organisations have been offering something similar for ages already. Take Northtec’s Level 2 Certificate in Elementary Construction, for example – one semester and you’re done. That’s only around four months, and it doesn’t have the insulting ‘micro’ connotation in its title.
Sounds to me like we have micro-awareness of some great options already. 

Michael Botur has published journalism in NZ Herald, Herald on Sunday, Sunday Star-Times and Mana and he writes a lot of fiction. He moved to Whangarei in 2015 and was ecstatic to be able to afford a house here.

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