With business confidence at a three-year high and demand for construction workers soaring, there may never have been a better time to get into a trade. According to Government agency Careers New Zealand, skill shortages abound in the construction, infrastructure, engineering and electro-technology industries.
In response to the Christchurch rebuild, and with robust growth predicted for Auckland and new infrastructure needed, the Government has announced it will provide 22 new trades academies and an extra 14,000 apprentices over the next five years.
Additionally, as of January 1 next year, the existing Modern Apprenticeships programme and other apprenticeship-type training will be replaced by a new nationwide scheme called New Zealand Apprenticeships, which will introduce changes beneficial to those keen on entering a trade.
Unlike Modern Apprenticeships, designed for people between the ages of 16 and 21, New Zealand Apprenticeships will be available to anyone over the age of 16.
Under the old scheme, apprentices could work towards a Level 3 national certificate but in the new programme they must work towards a minimum of a Level 4 national certificate. Existing Modern Apprentices will continue to get the support and subsidy they now receive for the next four years, or until they finish their apprenticeship.
Career consultant Jean Ottley of Careers New Zealand endorses the changes to the apprenticeship programme, and says any training that provides opportunities for young people to increase their skills and become more employable is a good thing.
With many competing career options now available to school-leavers, what is appealing to young people about "getting into the trades"? Ottley says a trade has the advantages of being a hands-on career with a clear pathway and opportunities to progress. Apprentices can "earn while they learn" and avoid a student loan. She says a trade appeals to those who want to combine a practical skill occupation with being self-employed and self-determining.
The costs of doing an apprenticeship are minimal due to course fees being subsidised. Fees vary, however, and the best way to find out about them is to talk to an employer, apprenticeship co-ordinator, or industry training organisation (ITO). Apprentices may be expected to pay for course-related costs for NZQA registration, training materials and support from the ITO.
For those considering entering a trade but unsure about what is available in the various industries, Ottley suggests Googling 'trades in New Zealand' to get a sense of the range. She says there are as many as 26 trade categories and some are more commonly known than others. "Test yourself on how much you know about these trades, for instance - rigger, plant operator, fabrication engineer, refrigeration and air-conditioning engineer," she says.
Prospective apprentices will need to find an employer who is willing to take them on and train them, and Ottley suggests they brush up on job search and research skills before approaching an employer.
"Be prepared when you approach employers directly. Take your CV with you and have some words ready to introduce yourself, say why you are there, and talk about why the employer should employ you," she advises.
Employees should expect to work for an employer for a while before being taken on as an apprentice, as this gives the would-be apprentice the chance to show commitment and interest in the job and a willingness to work hard, says Ottley.
Ottley advises students who are still at school to find out about Gateway, a programme that provides work experience opportunities in a range of industries. "This can be a great way to gain skills, learn more about a job and double check that it is the right career path for you," she says.
Pre-trade training is a useful option for prospective apprentices, particularly those who have tried to get into workplace training but found the employer was not convinced they had enough knowledge or practical experience. Pre-trade training courses are mainly offered by polytechs or private training establishments and can be found by searching Careers New Zealand's courses database, or by contacting training providers to see what they offer.
Ottley says successful completion of a pre-trade course looks good on a CV. "During the course you may make contact with people working in the industry and they may get a chance to see you in action - this may increase your chances of finding an apprenticeship."
More information on the New Zealand Apprenticeships scheme can be found on the Careers New Zealand website, www.careers.govt.nz.
This year in Auckland, building apprentice signups have increased by 42 per cent, with Canterbury following closely with a 38 per cent increase.