December 1, 2023 BY ARBS

AIRAH has opened a survey to assess how HVAC&R building services engineers around the country are being impacted by the introduction of professional registration schemes. In particular, the peak industry body hopes to gauge the degree to which the qualifications requirements of the schemes are locking out highly experienced and knowledgeable practitioners.

AIRAH is supporting the introduction of professional registration schemes through its APER accreditation program. Approved in Queensland and Victoria, the program has been designed to support the schemes in NSW and other states and territories as they are rolled out.

AIRAH COO Sami Zheng says the Institute has long advocated for professional registration of engineers.

“As highlighted in the Building Confidence report in 2018, professional registration is vital for strengthening Australia’s building and construction industry,” she says. “And by providing an accreditation scheme specifically for mechanical engineers working in HVAC&R building services, AIRAH is ensuring that professionals in our field are assessed by peers who understand the work and can make a qualified judgement about whether or not someone should be accredited.”

But Zheng also notes that AIRAH has had to turn away a number of highly qualified and experienced practitioners from the APER program because they do not meet the narrow qualifications requirements in the state schemes.

“The basic requirement is a Washington Accord degree in mechanical engineering, which is certainly the norm for graduates today,” she says. “But in years gone by, HVAC&R engineers may have completed associate diploma courses, or degrees in other subjects such as building services. Although these pathways were different, they provided an excellent level of education.”

The registration schemes offer an “alternative pathway” for engineers who do not have a Washington Accord degree. But the pathway offered in Australia does not allow for a practical assessment, relying instead on a desk mapping of qualifications.

“We have spoken to senior engineers in multinational firms, engineers who chair Standards Australia committees, and owners of engineering firms employing 40 to 50 people, who have been told to go back to university to do a four-year degree in order to get registered,” says Zheng. “It makes no sense that during an acute skills shortage, we are actively excluding some of our best engineers from the workforce.”

Zheng says the first step is to gauge the magnitude of the problem.

“We have opened a confidential survey for all engineers in the HVAC&R building services space, regardless of whether they are AIRAH members, and regardless of whether or not their state or territory has established a professional registration scheme,” she says. “We are also keen to hear from engineers who are registered, because we have seen that they have valuable perspectives on the issue too.

“Our goal – like that of the government and other industry stakeholders – is to make our sector stronger with a high-quality professional registration system. This survey will help us achieve that.”

The survey can be accessed here.