The number of Bay companies willing to take on new apprentices has plummeted despite lucrative incentives from the Government and an ageing tradie population.
Earlier this month the Government announced it would pay employers who take on apprentices up to $16,000 for the first two years, alongside scrapped apprenticeship fees.
However, Master Plumbers and Masterlink chief executive Greg Wallace said while there was no shortage of applicants, companies were holding off taking new staff and providing on-the-job training as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
New Zealand's economic recovery depended on businesses taking on apprentices, he said.
''The numbers of apprentices being taken on by businesses has dropped from 102 per month pre-Covid-19 to around 10 per month now.''
He was also concerned the average age for plumbers was 53 and ''there will not be enough qualified skilled workers to take their place when they retire''.
''We must keep growing the next generation.''
Nationally, 3000 plumbers were needed and demand for qualified tradespeople would only increase.
Masterlink Central North Island regional manager Russell Walsh said plumbers in the Bay of Plenty region were cautiously optimistic about the future.
He said Tauranga had a lot of commercial work under way.
''Big projects are ticking along and companies securing those contracts are looking to take on more staff – particularly qualified tradespeople.''
Peter Cooney, of Classic Builders, the biggest building company in the Bay of Plenty, said
the business had trained many apprentices over the years and many had gone on to be construction managers, project managers and some now owned their own businesses.
''It's a very satisfying feeling seeing these people get ahead in life.''
However, Cooney said he was unlikely to take on any more apprentices in the Tauranga region due to the uncertainty of the market.
He said a lot hinged on central government funding for a number of major projects and if they were not approved ''we are going to see a council unable to afford infrastructure to support the growth areas proposed here in the region''.
''This will lead to major delays which will be of great concern as Tauranga is already desperately short of available land which in turn will cause house prices to rise, affordability will get worse and a slow down in the construction sector causing job losses.''
However, he believed the funding was ''a positive thing for the industry so we are able to keep expertise in the industry so they are there for the next cycle''.
''The challenge now is keeping them employed. We need some serious stimulus in housing stock which I am just not seeing going to happen at present.''
Eco Plumber and Gas owner Dale Healy said the subsidy would help and while he could take on another person, he was mindful of the future.
''As an example, our firm does approximately 30 per cent commercial work and the rest is smaller jobs and servicing and repairs. So essentially we don't know where 70 per cent of our work is coming from week-to-week.
''That is disconcerting as people aren't willing to wait a day or two they want the job done right now. So there is very little in the way of comfort ... and it does feel like you are going out on a limb taking on an apprentice.''
But BCITO chief executive Warrick Quinn held higher hopes and said it had just under 1200 apprentices across 15 trades in the Bay of Plenty.
''We also know that only about 10 per cent of construction firms train at any one time. So what we are saying if you are a company that hasn't trained before and you've potentially found it a barrier with the fees or cost ... then hopefully we will entice those firms to train.''
Initial feedback had also been positive from employers and he had fielded about 1000 inquiries saying ''once I understand what these two policies look like, we'll sign people up''.
''The proof will be in the pudding.''
The industry was trying to create a backstop with local polytechnics to keep apprentices training if they did fall through the cracks or get laid off.
''In the last recession during the GFC, we lost about eight per cent of our construction workers and 32 per cent of apprentices so it was significant. At that stage, there was no intervention or support available but if we can keep people training we will come out the other side.''
''We go from boom to bust and we've always got this problem.''
Meanwhile, a spokesman from the Master Electricians' Association said feedback from its bigger businesses indicated they were worried ''as the amount of work they need in to have in the pipeline doesn't appear to be there''.
''Our smaller contractors are generally comfortable with the workload they have at the moment as a lot was pre-Covid-19.''
Industry training organisation Competenz chief executive Fiona Kingsford told NZME there were serious national shortages in manufacturing, engineering, and food and beverage industries.
''We know 15,793 jobs will need to be filled in the manufacturing sector over the next five years and people with engineering fabrication skills will also be in high demand," she said.
"It is anticipated before 2025, employment in the engineering sector will demand an average of 7650 new jobs be filled."
Kingsford said the forestry and food and beverage sectors have significant gaps to fill, each industry needing 4662 and 11,343 new people respectively.
Trade Me head of jobs Jeremy Wade said job hunters across the country had been looking to expand their skills and over the last month, searches for apprenticeships were up by 77 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.