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Insight issue #45 27 March 2012

Green skills for plumbers?

Plumbing, sustainability and training by Sian Halliday-Wynes and John Stanwick examines whether the nature of domestic plumbing has changed in reaction to the widespread concern for environmental sustainability. It analyses whether current skilling and training approaches meet the needs of plumbers. This topic has wider implications because of the interest in seeing how occupations generally respond to the need to be green.

In plumbing, the concept of environmental sustainability relates principally to reducing water and energy consumption. The report finds that the main impetuses for change in the domestic industry are regulation and government incentives. Price is also a significant factor for consumers.

Whether working for a large company or as an individual trader, modern plumbers require both technical and generic skills to operate successfully. They need to understand the relevant legislation and available government incentives, be aware of what products are available and how they are designed, and negotiate with both vendors and customers. They also need a good foundation for future training as new technologies emerge.

Despite the push for ‘greening’ and the development of new technologies in the plumbing trade, the authors found that the basic principles of plumbing have not changed. Entry-level training undertaken in TAFE institutes needs to continue to focus on these fundamentals, while providing additional training in generic skills and the skills to navigate complex regulation and legislation.

One of the key challenges is providing further skills, or ‘upskilling’, for already qualified plumbers. “Further skills development can seem confronting or unnecessary for those already qualified,” says Francesca Beddie, General Manager, Research at NCVER, “but it is required to keep abreast of changes and developments in the trade”.

One option is vendor training, which gives plumbers an opportunity to become familiar with new products, although clearly vendors have their own commercial interests in mind. But a more controversial option would be to link continuous professional development directly to licensing as a way of maintaining industry currency.

Plumbing, sustainability and training by Sian Halliday-Wynes and John Stanwick is available at

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