Opposition parties have welcomed the Prime Minister's plans to expand Government subsidies for apprenticeships - but say they have come too late.
Labour Party leader David Shearer said Prime Minister John Key's enthusiasm for apprenticeship was four years too late, because the number of modern apprenticeships had declined by 20 per cent under National.
"The Government has sat back and watched trades-training wither at a time of growing unemployment and in the face of the desperate need for skilled workers for the Christchurch rebuild,'' Mr Shearer said.
"National is desperately trying to rebrand and redefine apprenticeships, so that the programme will include other existing forms of industry training. That's a cute trick, but won't necessarily mean more people are getting trained.''
Mr Key announced the expansion during his first major speech of the year, to a business audience at the North Harbour Club in Auckland today.
At present modern apprenticeship subsidies are limited to the Industry Training Organisation and trainees aged 16-21. The subsidy is paid to the ITOs to visit the apprentices.
From 2014 there will be a single rate of subsidy for apprentices and no age restriction.
The Government will incentivise apprenticeships by giving a $1000 gratis payment to each new apprentice enrolled after April 1 for tools and off-job course costs, and $2000 to those in priority construction industries.
The same amount will be given to their employers.
Mr Key said the changes, along with the boom in construction and other trades in the rebuild of Christchurch, would see 14,000 new apprentices start training over the next five years, over and about the 7000 that enrol each year.
At present there are 14,000 trainees in the modern apprenticeships scheme and 17,000 others oustide it.
``The whole idea is to kickstart new apprenticeship opportunities ahead of the curve, so that thousands of New Zealanders get to learn a new trade that will last them a lifetime,'' Mr Key said.
Australia had done so well over the last few years because it had massive investment in its economy. Investment in Western Australia had seen the lowest unemployment rate and highest population growth of any Australian state.
In New Zealand, Taranaki had attracted significant oil and gas investment. It had a low unemployment rate and incomes had grown faster than anywhere else in the country.
"The key factor is investment and not just in oil and gas. So here in New Zealand we have to be a magnet for investment.''
Mr Key attacked Opposition parties, accusing them of being against most measures the Government proposed to encourage investment, growth and job.
They opposed tax changes, major roading projects, free trade with the United States [Labour does not], Resource Management Act changes, 90-day work trial, work expectations for beneficiaries, oil and gas exploration, labour market legislation for The Hobbit film, and a national convention centre, he said.
"There is only one type of activist government they know - the big spending and big-borrowing kind.
"It's called 'chequebook activism' and New Zealanders know it well because they have seen it before,'' Mr Key said.
"As a country we are still paying for it - literally.''
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said National were getting desperate for something to say, but welcomed the policy.
"We've been calling for an increase in modern apprenticeships and a removal of the age restriction for a long time - they should have done this immediately when they got into government - we desperately needed this investment in education and training after the recession. It's too late, but it's a good thing.''
Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said the scheme will help get more people into areas where skills are needed.
The trades that will be eligible for the $2000 incentive payment from April are:
Carpentry, painting, decorating, plastering, steel fixing, concreting, plumbing, gas fitting, drain laying, roofing, scaffolding, rigging, joinery, brick and block laying, paving, tiling, masonry, construction.
Plant operator, road construction and maintenance, bituminous surfacing, foundation works, pipe laying, bridge construction and maintenance, engineering (highways), quantity surveying.
Boiler making, welding, sheet metal working, diesel fitting, fitting and turning, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, fabrication.
Electricity supply (electronics and communication), instrumentation and control, refrigeration and air conditioning, electrical engineering.
To qualify, an apprentice will be defined as an industry trainee training towards a Level 4 qualification of 120 credits or more. Apprentices and employers already getting other Government top-ups, such as Ministry of Social Development wage subsidies, will not be eligible for the bonus.