It’s not often you meet a lawyer who says they wish they were a builder.
Ken Gardner completed degrees in Arts and Law at Melbourne University in 1978 and became a Solicitor in Victoria in 1980. He began his career in labour law (industrial relations) representing contractors in the offshore oil and gas sector before moving into a government position regulating the industry, including mines and quarries.
Ken has made a significant contribution to the Victorian building and energy sectors since the 1980s. His twenty-five-year career in the Victorian public service included many major achievements for the sector, such as establishing the first independent gas safety regulator in the 1990s. Ken played a central role in gas and electrical policy and regulation before leading Energy Safe Victoria, an organisation he established by combining the office of gas safety and the office of the Chief Electrical Inspector in 2005.
Ken’s experience visiting sites and workplaces both on and off-shore and seeing first-hand the impacts of safety procedure failures fostered a deep commitment to workplace health and safety and the continuous improvement of the training system that underpins the licensing and regulatory regime.
“Safety is about relationships and people and communication. The trouble with being the regulator is that you only ever see the bad ones (incidents). We should champion the exemplar models within industry and those that are doing well and have high safety standards and good records – to motivate and support the whole of industry.”
With an extensive network and experience within the industry, Ken became Chief Executive Officer of the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia in 2009. Now semi-retired, Ken remains on the Board of the Master Plumbers Association and is a Director of the Plumbing Joint Training Fund in Victoria, the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre and the World Plumbing Council.
An avid AFL fan and North Melbourne supporter, Ken spends his spare time with woodwork and house renovations projects, or with his three adult children and two grandchildren. As Honorary Treasurer and Secretary of the World Plumbing Council, he has travelled extensively throughout Europe and the United States researching different training institutions and models.
“Trade training in the USA is delivered by the United Association (union), which operates more than 250 plumbing training institutes across the US. The sheer size of the operation and the professionalism and the demand for places contrasts with our own experience. There is a much higher value placed on plumbing and technical trades in the US and Europe where tradespeople are considered highly professional and more elite than here in Australia.
“Trades are recognised and valued and carry more prestige because they are so desperately needed and there are great opportunities to earn a good living and own your business. The same demand and opportunity exists here, however, there is too much emphasis across the whole tertiary sector on university places. Too many graduates are leaving University with degrees they can’t use.
“There needs to be a re-alignment of our thinking and a change in the narrative to give young people the full story, highlighting all the options and opportunities available. Skills Oz is working with industry to change that narrative by highlighting the benefits of nationally consistent, high-quality, up-to-date and relevant industry training.