Building Industry Needs Significant Cultural Change

Andrew Cialini , 30 August 2019

Newly appointed Victorian State Building Surveyor Andrew Cialini says it’s time for the building industry to preference public safety and quality over cost, and to implement change for the good of overall outcomes rather than self-interest.

The role of Victorian State Building Surveyor is newly created. What does the job entail? What are your main responsibilities?

As State Building Surveyor, my role is to provide significant technical knowledge and expertise to the industry, and to proactively encourage the industry to adopt best practices for managing compliance risk. My role aims to educate the industry to improve compliance outcomes over time and focuses on supporting the industry change required to ensure buildings are consistently well-built, safe and fit for purpose. Above all, my role supports building industry professionals and agencies to create an environment in which Victorians are confident in the state’s building practices and compliance. This will require ongoing industry-wide collaboration between various regulators and our many stakeholders.

What skills and experiences have prepared you for this new role?

Acting as an industry leader requires strong technical abilities with which to advise the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) and assist with external and internal knowledge development. I am a qualified structural engineer, having practised as such for nearly 10 years, before undertaking further study and becoming a building surveyor. In South Australia, it is a requirement for the structural aspects of the approval documentation to be reviewed and certified by a third party. I have worked for more than 20 years as a building surveyor within my own practice, as well as multinational, multi-disciplined property consultants, gaining extensive project and industry experience. My engineering background provided a solid understanding of risk-based decision making and the importance of professionalism and ethics, both of which I believe are key ingredients for everyone involved in the building industry.

My desire to help improve industry outcomes resulted in committee involvement over many years with the Property Council of Australia, Master Builders of Australia and Engineers Australia. This experience has provided me with the opportunity to interact more deeply with, and appreciate, the many facets that make up our industry. It will also assist in developing and driving the strong stakeholder engagement I see as vital for gaining widespread support for initiatives and achieving common goals.

What do you see as the main challenges – short term and long term?

In the short term, overcoming the media’s portrayal and the resulting public opinion of the Australian building industry will be extremely challenging. There are significant issues to be addressed, but sensationalised media reports and overly negative industry participant commentary may prove counter-productive. It is important that objectivity remains and impartial commentary is provided.

The longer-term challenge is to encourage positive behavioural change amongst industry participants. The issues affecting the building industry are complex, with so many interactions from the start of a building project to the end. Any one failure in the process could result in a less than satisfactory outcome. Significant cultural change is required, with a renewed focus on consumer needs and a strong emphasis on decision making that properly considers public safety and the long-term benefits of quality over cost. The difficulty will be in changing these behaviours, which are probably indicative of current society rather than just industry alone, and achieving improvements across all areas without impacting on the viability of the industry.

How can professional representative bodies contribute to improving the quality of built outcomes? What roles should they play?

It is important for all professional representative organisations to provide leadership and guidance for their members. My observations are that it is the actions of a few who have created many of the issues we experience today. As such, there needs to be greater public awareness of, and stronger industry support for, those genuinely striving to do the right thing. Generating greater certainty on acceptable standards can be achieved, in part, through guidelines and education – measures that allow for the creation of a more level playing field, while providing industry participants, professional representative organisations and regulators the ability to review and call out poor practices. I am a strong believer that professional representative organisations need to maintain high expectations of their members and implement appropriate disciplinary action when those standards are not met.

Auditing is likely to play a greater role in the future regulation of practitioners across the industry. Professional representative organisations must play a significant and ongoing role in shaping and upholding standards to which auditing can be appropriately undertaken.

To what extent do you think the current crisis in confidence in the industry can be a positive force for change in the industry?

Increasing public, media and regulatory scrutiny of the building industry has generated a widespread and real desire for urgent change within the industry – a desire that has been frustratingly absent for so long. I feel the current environment offers a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to come together, to self-reflect, to accept individual shortcomings and to implement change for the good of the overall outcomes in our industry, rather than self-interests. My first few weeks as State Building Surveyor have seen the willingness of many to start and contribute to this ongoing and vital discussion. It is now time for all industry participants to act in the best interests of the industry and the clients we serve. Unfortunately, if self-interests continue to dominate and positive change does not occur, the industry will become a shadow of itself. We all need to strive for a strong and vibrant building industry that aims for – and achieves – high-quality, safe and compliant buildings. The public and the industry are depending on us.