Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Firms desperate for tradies in 'cut-throat' building boom

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Tauranga Registered Master Builders Association president Johnny Calley  says more apprentices are needed in the industry. Photo / John Borren
Tauranga Registered Master Builders Association president Johnny Calley says more apprentices are needed in the industry. Photo / John Borren

Tauranga's booming construction sector has become a victim of its own success with a shortage of qualified tradespeople and high demand for apprentices.

Hawes Building Solutions owner Mark Hawes last week advertised for more qualified carpenters to join his team of 20 staff, but so far only had a handful of applicants.

"We ran the same ad six weeks ago and among the 10 applicants were quite a few from overseas."

Mr Hawes said the huge demand for qualified tradies meant the industry was "very competitive" and "cut-throat", and one of his biggest challenges was finding enough qualified sub-contractors to price for new projects.

"We could easily take on five more carpenters, and our goal is to take on two new apprentices about every six months," he said.

Registered Master Builders Association president Johnny Calley of Calley Homes said the boom had worsened the significant shortage of skilled labour, particularly qualified carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

"It's both good news and bad for Tauranga, and the downside of the boom means we need far more apprentices coming through our industry training organisations.

"But the reality is, it's a four-year process to train up an apprentice, so unfortunately we will have to be a bit patient."

Last month, building consent values in Tauranga hit a record-breaking $66 million - but the mountain of construction work meant many builders were booked up for the rest of year, he said.

Mr Calley, who employs six apprentices, said two years ago builders on average were working 40-45 hours a week, now many were working six days a week.

There needed to be extra incentives to encourage more people to want to enter into trades, and also financial assistance for employers willing to take on apprentices, he said.

TradeStaff central North Island regional manager Geoff Campbell said there was huge demand for tradies across the board within the whole building and construction industry.

Bay of Plenty Polytechnic carpentry group leader Brian Dillon said 110 people were undergoing carpentry training at the polytech, up 15 per cent on the same time last year.

Mr Dillon said employers were struggling to find enough qualified tradies and apprentices.

"We're getting two or three phone calls a week from employers looking for apprentices."

Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation chief executive Ruma Karatiana said there were 447 apprentices training with the organisation, compared with 218 in 2013.

Mr Karatiana said a lot of work was being done to increase the number of apprentices.

"One of the challenges is that many school leavers are being encouraged to go on to university rather than opting to go into trades training.

"But to be fair to the schools, some of that pressure comes from parents," he said.

Link Electrical director Tony Redfern said the increased number of people coming down from Auckland meant demand for housing was really strong, and had a flow-on effect.

Master Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers NZ chief executive officer Greg Wallace said the significant shortage was being seen in a number of centres, including the Bay of Plenty, due to the huge demand for qualified tradies for big projects in Auckland and Christchurch.

"In the next three years in Auckland alone it's predicted there will be a shortfall of 600.

"Our apprentices can't access student loans like other students do, and employers also can't access the funding support they used to be able to, which makes it more challenging for the tradesperson and their employer."

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce said the government had made major reforms of the apprenticeship scheme three years ago, which were paying off.

Last year the number of new starts for apprenticeships like carpentry, plumbing and electrical engineering were at the highest levels in nearly a decade, he said.

"We are keen to continue to grow apprenticeship numbers further, and it's important that Bay of Plenty builders and other tradespeople contact their relevant ITO if they need to train more people."

Mr Joyce said there was a concerted push to encourage young people into the trades from school.

He said the merged Waiaraiki/Bay of Plenty polytechnic would be able to better meet the skill needs of businesses and industries right across the Bay.

Jobs available in the Tauranga area on Trade Me:

* Building & carpentry: 52

* Electrical: 13

* Plumbing: 6

Source: Trade Me Jobs

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