Number of apprentices over 50 climbing year on year

By Carmen Hall

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The number of apprentices in Tauranga aged over 50 jumped last year, new figures show.

Data from the Tertiary Education Commission reveal that last year there were 28 apprentices aged over 50, compared with 15 in 2014, while 14 apprentices in the category had signed up in the year to date.

Statistics show the total number of apprentices climbed 1019 last year, up from 945 in 2014.

In total, 822 apprentices had registered so far this year.

The number of women apprentices in Tauranga rose to 35 last year, up from 34 in 2014 and 19 in 2013. Thirty had registered so far this year.

TEC chief executive Tim Fowler said more people over 50 had signed up since 2013 for apprenticeships. The trend could relate to the age cap being removed in 2014 and the introduction of the Modern Apprenticeship scheme. "Another reason may be the ageing workforce, with more people staying in employment for longer periods of time, and re-starting their careers," he said.

The Skills Organisation had 709 trainees in Tauranga, including apprentices and those completing papers for qualifications.

The figures covered trainees in electrical trades, cranes and scaffolding, drain laying, electro-technology, occupational health and safety, plumbing and gas fitting and roofing - its oldest current trainee was 55 while the average age was 26.5.

Electrotechnology industry manager Marius Schmidt said there were opportunities for mature workers as many "possess valuable traits, such as a high level of ethics and experience, both in their personal and working lives".

There were a lot of trades that were suitable to transition into, and electrotechnology stands out as a popular option, he said.

"We are seeing a lot of older workers make the switch into this field. Compared with other trades, the work is not as physically strenuous on the body ... it also offers a diverse range of roles you can train in, such as service technicians, switchgear fitters."

However, he acknowledged initially there could be a financial barrier.

"In the long term, a career in trades can still be very financially rewarding once you are registered and have some years of experience under your belt - it's taking one step back to take two forward."

Master Electricians New Zealand president Colin Smith said apprentice wages were low and added if "you have a mortgage and kids and a family to support ... it's pretty much impossible".

"We sort of tell them they need to have a serious think about their finances ... they still pretty much get the minimum wage."

The Master Electricians had its own apprentice company ETCO which formed a partnership agreement with schools to encourage teenagers into the trade and "we are finding that is working really well".

ETCO was established 25 years ago and had put through 3500 electricians, Mr Smith said.

Master Plumbers NZ chief executive Greg Wallace said it had 160 apprentices at the moment through Masterlink and they were trained by plumbing firms.

Its oldest apprentice was 54; however, ages in the Bay of Plenty ranged from 18 to 38.

He said plumbing companies liked apprentices to have some work experience that did not necessarily need to be industry related.

There was a shortfall of plumbers, he said , and it was a concern that less than 40 per cent of the plumbing industry was taking on apprentices.

Bay of Plenty Polytechnic head of school of applied technology Malcolm Hardy said the number of older people training had increased.

It had pre-trade courses that included everything from automotive to carpentry, road transport and logistics to law enforcement while it had about 160 apprentices on its carpentry and automotive programmes - with electrical and engineering in the pipeline. "Definitely we have found that students are getting older ... a lot of those are 30 to 40-year-olds who are retraining through their lives because people realise you are probably going to be working until you are 70."

Age no barrier to upskilling

At age 64, Sylvia Spandow (pictured) is the oldest Tauranga trades student with the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation but she "loves" her course.

The Carpet Court Tauranga accounts administrator said taking on the national certificate in flooring, flooring planning and design would help her on the job.

She worked alongside sub-contractors that did installation.

"I have to sort out problems when they go wrong and if I know what is going on then it's a lot easier for me," she said.

Flooring was not straight forward, as complicated details appeared on invoices, carpet had to be measured accurately and if issues like asbestos were found they needed to be fixed.

The course was teaching her how to deal with "all sorts of things," she said.

Knowing your stuff was important when talking to sub-contractors, she said, "because otherwise they will just think you are another silly woman".

Ms Spandow does not think age was a barrier and although her latest paper proved to be challenging, it had not put her off. "It's more about procedures but I'll get there, I just go and sit with the guys and talk it over."

Data from BCITO showed it has 186 apprentices and students in the city. The top two trades were carpentry, which had 106 training, followed by timber joinery with 12. The average age of trainees was 27. Carmen Hall

- Bay of Plenty Times

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