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The 2021 National Standard of Competency for Architects – The changes and how they affect architects

All right. Welcome, everyone, and thanks everyone for coming to the final ARBV screening session for 2023. My name is Isabel Legge and I will be walking you through a snapshot of the 2021 National Standards of Competency for Architects, focusing on how the changes are relevant to architects and their practice.

I would like to first begin by respectfully acknowledging traditional owners of the land on which we live, walk and work. In particular, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and pay my respects to their elders past and present. 

In this webinar session, we will introduce participants to the updated 2021 National Standards of Competency for Architects, and we will cover a background into the role of the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia and the evolution of the National Standards of Competency for Architects and the new features in the 2021 NSCA.  The new structure, the inclusion of Explanatory Notes and key terms and definitions, and the inclusion of new content addressing understanding and respecting Country and expanded expectations in terms of sustainability, lifecycle assessment and whole life cycle. 

Government, while being accountable to each architect registration board, it provides support to architects and registration boards in ensuring national consistency across pre-registration pathways, CPD and university accreditation.

The primary role of the introduction and regulation at the time was to protect the public interests by ensuring that buildings were designed by properly qualified and experienced people. The rationale has endured and remained at the heart of the current regulatory regime in Victoria.

Today the ARBV is established under the Architects Act 1991 and operates as a statutory authority. The ARBVs overarching purpose is to protect the community interest and instil confidence in the regulation, integrity and delivery of architectural services in Victoria. The ARBV regulates architects in accordance with the Architects Act. The main purposes of the Act include to provide for registration of architects and approval of companies and partnerships, to regulate the professional conduct of architects, to provide procedures for handling complaints against architects, and to regulate the use of the term architect, architectural services and architectural design.

The ARBV’s focus is on professional conduct and practice and developing a strong and efficient compliance culture among architects and a built environment that is compliant with building codes and standards. Each of the nominating body’s architects registration boards, is an independent statutory authority and is responsible for administering the Act in its jurisdiction. So, there's different regulation in different states and territories across Australia.

The boards and the AACA work in collaboration on matters of national interest to the profession and the industry and the public. The AACA maintains the National Standards of Competency for Architects. The NSCA was established in 1993 and underpins all assessment processes leading to registration as an architect in Australia, including academic education and the APE.

The AACA administer the architects registration boards and the Architectural Practice Exam, along with alternative pathways to registration. They consult with key organisations to develop, maintain and promote the National Standards of Competency for Architects, and they develop and provide competency based assessment programs to determine eligibility for registration as an architect in Australia. They also administer the architectural program accreditation procedure in Australia and New Zealand on behalf of the architects registration boards. 

So over time the competency standards have expanded and evolved to change with the architectural profession, the competency standards detail current expectations of practicing architects. They also define the key stages of the professional development, outlining the different standards of understanding and knowledge required as you progress through the profession. Defining the parameters for the accreditation of university courses and outlining the competency required for the Architectural Practice Exam and reflecting the scope of knowledge embedded in architectural practice. 

Regular review of the competency standards is important to ensure continuing relevance to the profession and to maintain accuracy in the definition of the skill set expected of Australian architects. The competency standards have been reviewed four times since 1993. The previous 2015 standards, which many of you would be familiar, was broken into 70 performance criteria divided across all units of competency, and they followed a linear structure. When the 2015 standards were reviewed, the focus was to build environmental industry and the significance of its size and the critical role played in the provision of dwellings, commercial spaces, public buildings and infrastructure.

The document was not to be used for an assessment, but a framework to underpin the processes that lead to registration as an architect in Australia. The 2021 NSCA was developed in association with expert reference groups made up of the Association of Architect Schools of Australasia, Association of Consultant Architects, nominated persons from each of the ARBs around Australia and the AIA. They conducted research and review on the competency standards which involved receiving stakeholder input and benchmarking to other standards. This led to an issues paper and the first draft of the NSCA. Overall, the process started in 2018 and was only finished in July 2021.

The original competency standards followed a conventional structure. The units of competency were broken into contexts. Each context in turn broken into a series of elements of competencies, and then further defined by performance criteria. The units of competency covered design, documentation, project delivery and practice management. The 2015 NSCA was broken up into five knowledge domains which underpin all performance criteria.

The domains were regulation, social and ethical, sustainable environment, disciplinary and communications. The 2015 NSCA was divided into nine elements building project briefing, pre design, conceptual design, schematic design documentation, detailed design, documentation project delivery, project delivery procurement, construction stage practice management and practice management.

However, the 2021 competency standards have a more complex set up with the units of competency not only broken down into a series of performance criteria, but each of those criteria is further defined by professional capabilities and competency profiles. Under each performance criteria the user can reflect their current competency profile and understand the level of professional capability expected of a person at that stage in their architectural development. This we’ll cover further in later slides.

The 2021 NSCA identifies the skills, knowledge and capabilities required for the general practice of architecture in Australia. It has been divided into two key documents, The National Standards of Competency for Architects, which sets out a roadmap to registration and beyond; and a supplementary Explanatory Notes and Definitions. This document defines terms, explains what certain performance criteria mean in practice, and provides examples of how competencies might be demonstrated at different stages in an architect’s development.

This leads us to our first question for today, which is “When and why was the NSCA developed?” So, I think we've got a poll going for this. So, if everyone wants to answer that and we’ll see how we go. It’s looking pretty good.

All right. So, we seem to have got quite a few of our answers in and the majority seems to be fairly strongly in favour of the correct answer, which is, the NSCA was first established in 1993, and it was established to identify the skills and knowledge and capabilities required for the general practice of architecture in Australia. So, I think we got kind of, most people seemed to get that right.

So, I think that we've got two questions in a row today. So, that brings us up to question number two, which, I'm just going to answer that one, which is, “What two documents make up The 2021 NSCA?”

So, you actually have to write the answer for that one don’t we. All right. Well, hopefully we've got some answers going there. So, the answers to that one are the National Standards of Competency for Architects and the Explanatory Notes and Definitions. All right. So, we're back to the main content now.

So that there are three main components of the 2021 NSCA. They are the professional capabilities, competency profiles and units of competency. These are then assessed through associated performance criteria. In addition to the changes to the structure of the 2021 NSCA, the NSCA has expanded its Explanatory Notes and introduced the terms and definitions specific to architectural practice. Interestingly, the focus in the new structure has shifted to highlight the importance of design, with three of the four areas of competency now directly referencing design; highlighting the importance of design and architecture, as this is what differentiates us from building designers. A third of all performance criteria directly reference design. 

So, the structure of the new NSCA is set out in the professional capabilities. So, the professional capabilities encapsulate the knowledge, skill and attributes that underpin professional education in architecture and the practice of an architect in Australia. These are grouped into three core areas. 

Professionalism. Professionalism encompasses the capacity to understand and enact the role and responsibilities of an architect within evolving architectural, social, cultural, ethical, legal, technical and business context.

Communication. Communication capabilities encompasses the ability to clearly convey and explain the roles and responsibilities of an architect to coherently and respectfully communicate within workplace and project contexts, and to articulate the value that architects contribute. 

Environmental practice. Capabilities encompass a holistic approach to creating and caring for living environments. This includes the ability to understand, analyse and assess the impacts of design decisions and the delivery processes on the natural and built environment, to care for country and community, to minimize carbon impact and to support the transition to a carbon neutral built environment.

The NSCA has updated the competency profiles to align with the development of an architect at all stages of their education, from tertiary studies to the ongoing requirement for continuing professional development. The NSCA maps out the expectations of professional competencies at three levels. 

Graduate of Architecture. The level of competency required at the completion of accredited program architecture.

Candidate for registration. The level of competency required at the point of registration; and 

Architect Post registration. The additional professional competencies required to comply with regulatory obligations, including codes of conduct and to maintain professional competency and disciplinary knowledge to measure it with practice. 

So, this brings us to question number three. “What are the three different competency levels?”

All right. So, we've had almost everyone answer this question correctly. So, the three stages are graduate of architecture, candidate for registration and architect post registration. 

All right, so under the new structure, we have the units of competency. There are four units of competency outlining the required knowledge and skills involved in the practice of architecture.

So, they are Practice Management and Professional Conduct. This unit encompasses a holistic understanding of the organisation of the profession, practice and business of architecture, with the objective of providing value through sustainable, timely and efficient professional services.

Second one is Project Initiation and Conceptual Design. This unit encompasses intelligent, creative, iterative and culturally responsive processes of initiating a project and the early stages of design. This involves research, analysis and the exploration of approaches, design ideas and alternative solutions. 

Next stage is Detailed Design and Construction Documentation. This unit of competency encompasses the processes of developing this design through research, detailed assessment of options, and the integration of technical solutions, value and cost control processes to maintain and enhance the design intent. The final design proposal is cohesive, fully described and resolved to achieve value and cost objectives and compliance with planning controls and construction codes.

The final stage is Design Delivery and Construction Phase Services. This unit encompasses the provision of services to support project delivery through construction. This may occur through a variety of building procurement methods and construction contracts. The form of contract may establish different expectations and obligations. 

The performance criteria within the NSCA describe discrete aspects of the architectural practice and are organized under the units of competency. Each unit has a corresponding set of criteria for each of the three competency profiles. There are now 60 performance criteria, of which 43 are relevant at university during the years relevant to university curricula. The NSCA does not prioritise any units of performance criteria. The ordering of the performance criteria does not support a particular mode of practice or project type, nor is there any weighting applied to individual performance criteria in the 2021 NSCA. Performance criteria requirements are described through a set of active terms from functional awareness, to understanding, to skilled application.

As you can see, each unit of competency has its own matrix of performance criteria. So, the example shown here is Practice Management and Professional Conduct. There are 16 performance criteria covered under Practice Management and Performance Conduct, performance requirements one through to sixteen. The 2021 NSCA clearly details the unit of competency required at each knowledge base.

Each criteria has a clearly defined level of understanding and knowledge based on the individual's progression from graduation to post registration. The performance requirements for PC 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 are the only criteria that delineate between the requirements at registration and post registration. These highlight the importance of ongoing continuing professional development for architects. 

This slide shows the remaining units of competency. The number of performance criteria under each unit of competency is different. And for the remainder of the units two through to four, the level of understanding and knowledge of registration is consistent with that of an architect post registration. This is why it is important for both architects as well as graduates looking to undertake the registration process to familiarise themselves with performance criteria outlined in this document.

So, along with the new NSCA, there's also the accompanying Explanatory Notes. So, the Explanatory Notes have been developed, but all new performance criteria. They were developed with significant contributions from Daniéle Hromek and Vanessa Dudman, with guidance from the AACA National Advisory Panel, AACA National Convener, various AACA working groups, the AIA First Nations Working Group and the AIA Climate Action and Sustainability Task Force.

They are organised into the four units of competency. Each explanatory note tackles a specific PC, particularly prioritising those PCs that address new and expanded areas of knowledge. Definitions are provided for key terms. There are three pages of definitions associated with understanding Country. Definitions are provided for terms specific to architectural practice, such as procurement method.

There are references and links to external resources, including guidelines and books, and examples are provided for how competency might be demonstrated at different stages in an architect's development.

Explanatory notes provide detailed notes about many of the performance criteria with a detailed description of the architectural knowledge and understanding covered by the PC. At the top of the page is the performance criteria outline, which directly relates back to the performance criteria and matrix. Under this are the detailed explanatory notes that provide a narrative expansion on the intent of the specific performance criteria, with links to key terms and definitions embedded in the document.

There are examples provided for further clarity of the knowledge and understanding that may demonstrate competency at each competency profile. The Explanatory Notes provides a greater level of detail about specific competencies. For example, PC eight, which is shown here, centres on understanding and respecting Country. The explanatory note provides greater assistance in unpacking the PC. It provides examples about the PC and how it can be met at the different competency profiles being on graduation, at registration and post registration.

Unfortunately, not all the PCs are covered and it isn't available for every PC as this is a work in progress. Specifically PCs 4, 6, 7, 13, 18, 22, 26, 28, 30, 33, 37, 38, 41, 42, 43, 58 and 59 are not currently included in the Explanatory Notes. If you can remember them, well done. Explanatory Notes also provide a detailed narrative explaining the intent of the new content how it relates to architectural practice with links to key terms and definitions embedded in the document.

There are links to useful websites, books, guidelines, principles and protocols dictionaries and reference publications. Reviewing these resources and links can be used to form part of your CPD requirements, even reading through the Explanatory Notes can form part of CPD requirements. 

Alright, this brings us to question number four. So, “At what stage of an architect’s professional development should they reference the NSCA?”

All right, so we've almost got most of your answers in and pretty much everyone has said “all of the above”, which is basically at all stages of your architectural career you should be looking at this document.

All right. So, under the 2021 NSCA, there are two key areas of expanded knowledge that all registered architects as well as graduates and candidates should familiarise themselves with, and these understanding Country and environmental sustainability, life cycle assessment and whole life carbon. 

It is the responsibility of all practicing architects in Victoria to ensure that they maintain the knowledge required of a practicing architect. This is commonly completed as part of your CPD, so it may be worth considering this new content when looking at what CPD content to undertake this year. Understanding Country is referenced across all three of the professional capabilities. It is important to review the performance criteria to get an understanding of how this new area of knowledge is expected to be applied to architectural practice.

There are eight performance criteria directly relevant to this area of responsibility and knowledge. PC 3, 8, 15, 17, 27, 36, 45 and 50 and an additional five performance criteria address culturally responsive behaviour; PCs 12, 26, 29, 30 and 34. Country is broadly understood as a holistic world view that incorporates human non-human, and all the complex systems that connect them. Country relates to First Nations Peoples, cultural groups and the places to which they belong.

First Nations and First Nations People refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These terms recognise and respect the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as those who first inhabited and cared for the continent now called Australia. Caring for Country is a term used to describe the land management practices and programs that First Nations people undertake and the role these play in enabling continuing culture. To care for Country is to recognise that the different ecosystems across the continent require different practices to enable sustainable living. First Nations peoples’ aspirations to care for Country respond to the knowledge and responsibilities entrusted to them, providing a deep sense of belonging, purpose and identity. 

Respects Country is a design position. It requires an ethical approach to design and respect for Country and the environment. For more information on these, see pages 11 to 14 of the Explanatory Notes that have an in-depth overview of the terms and concepts that are fundamental to developing competency in this area. Environmental sustainability, life cycle assessment and whole life carbon is referenced under the Environmental Practice Professional Capability. There are seven performance criteria directly relevant to this area of responsibility and knowledge, they are PC 3,10, 24, 31, 33, 35 and 45. An additional four performance criteria address environmental responsive behaviour. They are 12, 16, 28 and 30. The 2021 NSCA places a new emphasis on environmental sustainability and lifecycle assessment and introduces the concept of whole full life carbon. In defining this area of knowledge, the 2021 NSCA draws on the National Strategy of Ecological Sustainable Development. The definition of ecological sustainable development using conserving and enhancing the community's resources so that ecological processes on which life depends are maintained and the total quality of life now and in the future can be increased.

Released in 1992, this definition was developed specifically for an Australian context and was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments. The core objectives and guiding principles set by the NSESD have been widely referenced and incorporated into many federal and state policies and pieces of legislation in Australia. They are also referenced in the Green Building Council of Australia guidelines.

This definition provides a useful framework, particularly as there is no global consensus on the definition of everyday terms, such as sustainability, sustainable development and environmental sustainability. For more information on these, see pages 15 to 17 of the Explanatory Notes.  This brings us to our last question for today, which is “What are the two new areas of competency introduced in the 2021 NSCA?”

All right. So, we've almost got everyone answering that and it looks like everyone is fairly confident with the answer, which is understanding Country and environmental sustainability life cycle assessment and whole life carbon. Unfortunately, it's not nail art and life drawing, which would have been quite fun. 

All right. So, also the final part of the new NSCA Explanatory Notes is the inclusion of a comprehensive list of terms and definitions commonly used in the practice of architecture.

The purpose of this section of the Explanatory Notes is to provide architects, registrants and graduates with clarification around commonly used terminology that has previously been undefined. The hope is that having a broadly accepted set of definitions within the industry will help strengthen the profession. So, for more information on these see pages, 18 to 25 of the Explanatory Notes. 

All right. Well, that brings us to the end of today's presentation. So, thank you everyone, for your time. If anyone has any questions, please put them through and we will attempt to answer them. So, I think we’ve had a few through, so let me have a look. So, one of the questions that we've had through is “Are all the new competency standards available online?” Yes, they are all available on the AACA website. So, feel free to have a look there to download those documents and they also include all of the relevant links. So, the AACA website has a lot of really good information for architects. 

We’ve also got another question here about “Where can we find more information on PC 18?” That's one that I think we said is one that hasn't been, there's not a lot of explanation of yet, but hopefully this is something that the AACA is working on in the background and we can feed that information into it as we update the Explanatory Notes. 

Yeah, we can. Someone's asked if we can provide the list of Explanatory Notes that are a work in progress. We can probably.