Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Builders on urgent hunt for apprentices

Industry struggling to find numbers to meet cities’ growing needs.

Deniro Larsen-Marsters, the 9000th building industry apprentice, says he someday hopes to run his own crew. Photo / Greg Bowker
Deniro Larsen-Marsters, the 9000th building industry apprentice, says he someday hopes to run his own crew. Photo / Greg Bowker

New Zealand's expanding building industry has signed up its 9000th apprentice - but says it is running out of young people to fill the demand for more.

Deniro Larsen-Marsters, 19, of Helensville, signed on as an apprentice last month with Mangere-based Koru Builders, lifting the number of core building trades apprentices from a recession low of 4900 to about 7200 on a comparable basis, or exactly 9000 including joinery, painting and other trades which merged this year with the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO).

But BCITO chief executive Ruma Karaitiana said the industry needed to lift numbers by a further 3000 to train the 12,000 apprentices needed to meet projected demand for qualified builders in three years' time.

"We still have more builders looking for apprentices than potential apprentices," he said. "We have been running in that mode for nine months."

His communications manager Andrew Robertson said, "Our database of career-seekers is depleted to the point that there are no people left to put in contact with hiring employers. The situation is becoming a major issue in Auckland and Christchurch. We are simply running out of people who want to be apprentices."

The extraordinary turnaround reflects a recovery in residential building consents from a low of 32,000 in the year to June 2011 to 44,000 in the latest June year, although this is still well below the previous peak of almost 55,000 in 2003-04.

Similarly, apprentice numbers in the core building trades are still below their last peak of 8939 in 2007, despite a Government incentive of $2000 for every new apprentice and a matching $2000 for their employers in priority trades such as building since April last year. The incentive expires at the end of this year.

National and Labour both unveiled initiatives last week to boost affordable home building aimed at first home buyers, but experts questioned whether either party could ramp up building fast enough because of the shortage of builders.

"My biggest concern is whether we will have the people to build the houses," said mortgage broker Bruce Patten.

"We are getting so many complaints about group home builders who are making promises and not delivering."

Mr Larsen-Marsters said the $2000 grant paid for his tools, and a cadetship funded by Te Puni Kokiri paid for his first years' apprenticeship fee of $1470. He boasts a rich Kiwi mix of Tuhoe, Tuwharetoa, Rarotongan, Tahitian and Norwegian ancestry.

He started in the industry with a local Helensville builder, then took time out before signing up with family friend Seti Fa'aofo of Koru Builders.

"I said I want to try a few other jobs before I lock myself in," he said.

"I worked in a few other jobs but nah, after a few months I decided I'll get back into building and hooked up with Seti.

"If you're a hands-on type of person and you're not dumb, then building is for you, I guess if you don't mind hard work."

He earns "apprentice wages" of only about $15 an hour and spends about $20 a day on petrol getting from Helensville to building sites across Auckland, but said, "If you're smart about it, it's manageable.

"I want to finish my apprenticeship and by then hopefully I'll understand how it all works and be in the top seat and I guess try and run my own crew."

On the web
www.bcito.org.nz/lookingforwork

- NZ Herald

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