A chronic shortage of apprentices has sparked a national campaign to promote New Zealand's need for more skilled people in trades and services

Got a Trade Week, launching on August 22, will showcase opportunities for the 72 per cent of school-leavers who don't go to university.

Andrew Robertson, chair of Got a Trade Week, says the campaign will be useful in informing students, parents and teachers of career opportunities available for young people in more than 140 trades and services.

With more than 75,000 young New Zealanders aged 15-24 years not currently working, studying or training, "they're not developing the skills they need to compete in the workforce," says Robertson. "We all need to work together - in the home and in the classroom - to steer our kids in the direction of real job opportunities."

Gaining a qualification by way of an apprenticeship gives school-leavers and older people the opportunity to earn while they learn, "which importantly means they are not contributing to the country's staggering student debt," he says.

Advertisement

"The average student loan balance last year was more than $20,000 and it's taking the debtor an average of seven years to pay it off."

He says if young people follow their passion and work hard in learning a trade or service, they'll be rewarded with a well-paid and interesting career.

Apprenticeships provide practical, marketable skills which can be transferred overseas, and they can jumpstart a world of lifelong learning.

"The emphasis on competencies means that careers learned on the job are better suited to an increasingly changing world of disruptive and digital technology."

Many trades and services are well-suited to self-employment. Robertson says nearly 20 per cent of those in the automotive sector are self-employed compared to 16 per cent for New Zealand as a whole, and one-third of people in the hairdressing sector are business owners.

With the need for more apprentices becoming dire, especially in engineering and construction, companies are having to change the way they do business. "Some are bringing in skilled people from overseas, others are scaling back their operations and turning away work because they don't have the appropriate skilled workforce," says Robertson.

Industry training organisation Competenz provides information, guidance and advice to employers and prospective apprentices in 37 industries, including engineering, forestry, printing, packaging, signmaking, journalism, transport, food and beverage, manufacturing, textiles, apparel and laundry, business and sales.

CEO Fiona Kingsford says the housing crisis has led the public to focus on opportunities in building and construction, "but there is a real and genuine demand from all trades for skilled people.

For example, the mechanical engineering sector needs 5400 new people by 2020 to meet employment growth and replacement demand. The manufacturing sector is calling out for 40,000 new people for it to keep up with growth and demand in the next four years."

Competenz facilitates on-the-job training and vocational learning through the development of nationally recognised qualifications, and works closely with apprentices and learners to build their skills.

Kingsford says Got a Trade Week is one of the ways Competenz promotes trades to prospective apprentices, but they also have a Schools and Careers team facilitating a Gateways programme for learning outside the classroom, and their Tools 4 Work programme shows secondary school teachers the Competenz learning units that can contribute towards an NCEA qualification and vocational pathway.

"In this current climate, where housing is becoming unaffordable and there's a real hopelessness for young people to get on the housing ladder, learning a trade means they can gain skills and a qualification without student debt. They have a job, transferable skills, and industry contacts at the end of their apprenticeship," says Kingsford.

The Defence Force provides training in warfare trades, but recruits can also choose to become electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, information or communication systems operators, engineers, PT instructors and intelligence operators. Qualified personnel are guaranteed 15 years of employment.

After 16 weeks of basic training, Army recruits move into training in their chosen trade, followed by collective and leadership training. A new recruit in basic training earns around $34,000, moving to $45-50,000 as a private.By progressing through the ranks, they can be paid up to $104,000 as a warrant officer.

Extra financial rewards are provided due to 'the Military Factor' - the commitment required to play a part in situations unique to military life. Personnel receive a variety of subsidies along with free medical and dental care for work-related purposes.

Robertson says gender diversity is alive and well in the trades and services, with a notable increase in the number of women working in male-dominated trades and services over the past 10 years.

"This is attributable to the demand for skilled workers in key sectors, attractive salaries and greater promotion of apprenticeships to women. In the wider building and construction sectors, one-fifth of apprentices are women."

Carla Tonga, an apprentice builder featured in TVNZ's Our First Home last year, pursued a career in building because she grew up playing outside and loved making kites and huts. As a carpentry apprentice at Build NZ Quality, she finds the whole construction process intriguing - "not just learning about how to construct a building, but the systematic processes and the team environment."

Having studied carpentry at university and on the job, she says the advantage of learning on the job is clear: on-site experience. "This is one of the first questions an employer will ask you," she says.

Robertson says men are also bucking the trends in key service sectors. Male participation in the female-dominated sectors of hairdressing, youth work and aged care has increased in the past 10 years.

Got A Trade week runs from Aug 22-26
www.gotatrade.co.nz