Executive director of the Master Builders' Association, John Miller. Photo: Melissa Adams
'In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way, in the long run, is the easiest.''
And with this quote from the late American author Henry Miller (no relation) emerges a pointer to some of the underlying issues challenging the building and construction industry, not only in the ACT but more broadly. Left unchallenged, the consequences for clients and consumers will never be properly dealt with.
The stream of conversations held privately and publicly lamenting quick fixes and short cuts, and not just associated with building and construction, are bordering on contagion. Everyone talks about it. The problem is that while we all recognise downstream shortcomings with quick fixes and short cuts, very little is being done to deal with them at a practical level.
Quality and safety have been two of the most talked about and controversial issues associated with the building and construction industry for a long time. Both have accounted for many column centimetres in print media and hours of electronic media air time - particularly over the past few years in Canberra.
Neither issue is far from the spotlight at any given time. Why? A lot has got to do with short cuts.
In Sydney recently, there was a billboard advertising training that could deliver you a builder's licence in just a handful of months. Fantastic! Just the person I want to get to build my house or a block of flats in my suburb. And here is the nub of the problem for consumers and our industry and the many good people in it who have gone through countless years of training and on-the-job learning to ply their trade to the satisfaction of their clients.
As an association, we are getting asked constantly what we are doing about the problems. We don't abrogate ourselves of responsibility to work with members to ensure they are delivering work appropriately. What we can't do, nor do we carry the authority to do, is stop a tidal wave of people who can obtain qualifications, through no fault of their own, without the rigour of a much sought after bygone era.
This isn't about living in the past. We recognise changes in materials and technology have impacted on training time frames but certainly not to the extent we are seeing now. Ours is, and must be, a constant fight to stop short cuts from prevailing. A failure to do so will create bigger problems in the future.
The sooner today's problems are dealt with, the better off tomorrow's consumers and clients will be.
This will also mean, in many cases, less unnecessary time will be spent trying to publicly defend the reputation of the many good builders and other high-quality industry practitioners who constantly get caught up in the messy debate about building quality.
Without urgent reconsideration of some of the parameters around how qualifications are delivered, what the prerequisites are in obtaining those qualifications and to whom licences are issued, today's problems are going to multiply rapidly.
In an age of a quick fix, a short cut, a quick buck, when opportunity exists there will be some standing in line to try and cash in. This is why we constantly try to remind consumers to check the credentials and experience of those with whom they are entering into contracts and agreements.
Unfortunately, with short cuts and quick fixes, critical matters such as safety can also be compromised. You just cannot decouple quality training from safety. Of course, not every accident is due to short cuts and compressed training time frames. Accidents do happen, whether we want to believe it or not, but often they can be traced to training compression and lack of extended supervision. Our feedback in dealing with the regulators is that invariably safety issues are far more prevalent where knowledge and experience is missing.
In entering this new year, our efforts will be increasingly focused on pressing the training and licensing regulators to inject far more rigour into the frameworks that are, in essence, designed to protect.
As it stands, that protection for consumers, clients and builders is being severely compromised and, as is often the case, is being dealt with at great cost in a remediation and reactionary way.
I say: ''If we want to make it easier, let's make it harder.''
John Miller is executive director of the Master Builders Association of the ACT.