Some polytechnics are running double shifts to cope with a huge surge of students attracted by free courses at a time when many jobs have disappeared in the wake of Covid-19.
The chief executive of the new national polytechnic Te Pūkenga, former Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town, says staff are running two shifts each day to cope with bulging numbers in some courses at Unitec and at Invercargill's Southern Institute of Technology.
And the enrolment surge looks set to accelerate next year, with early applications for 2021 polytech courses up 47 per cent from about 30,000 at this time last year to 43,400.
But ironically, about 200 polytechnic staff, and several hundred at universities, are still expected to lose their jobs because of the loss of foreign students since the Covid-19 pandemic closed New Zealand's border in March.
Auckland's Unitec has already started running double shifts in many of its programmes to cope with an 18 per cent jump in new domestic enrolments in the second half of this year.
"Instead of running the course through the day, we are running one from 8am to 3pm and then one from 3pm to 8pm," Unitec student recruitment director David Glover said.
"We are hiring new staff in some of those high-demand areas, trying to find people in the trades and plumbing areas."
The increases are partly due to Covid-driven job losses. Glover said few school-leavers started at Unitec in the second half-year, so the increase so far had been mainly older workers such as former Air NZ pilot Luke Emerson, 36, who has enrolled in an architecture course after the airline made him redundant in July.
The same effect drove an 11 per cent increase in enrolments at polytechnics, universities and wānanga in the global financial crisis between 2008 and 2010.
This time the jump has been reinforced by a $1.6 billion post-Covid package that has removed fees from all courses below degree level in six target sectors, and from all apprenticeships, until the end of 2022.
The Government is also paying employers $1000 a month for every first-year apprentice and $500 a month in the second year up to a total of $16,000 up to April 2022.
Industry training organisations say new apprenticeships have more than doubled since July, compared with the same time last year, in building and construction, hair and beauty, primary industries and sectors covered by the Skills Organisation and Skills Active.
Training enrolments are up 65 per cent in infrastructure, 54 per cent in trades covered by Competenz and 23 per cent in the motor industry.
Careerforce, which trains care workers, reports jumps since July of 48 per cent in traineeships and 53 per cent in apprenticeships.
Wellington's Weltec and Whitireia head Mark Oldershaw said his early applications for 2021 had doubled to well over 3000.
Early applications for 2021 are up from this time last year by 79 per cent at Manukau, 67 per cent at the Open Polytechnic, 60 per cent at Waikato's Wintec, 57 per cent at Unitec, 49 per cent at Otago Polytechnic, 48 per cent at Northtec, 35 per cent at Toi Ohomai in the Bay of Plenty, 16 per cent at Ara in Canterbury and 9 per cent at Greymouth's Tai Poutini.
However, Southern Institute of Technology reports an 8 per cent drop in early applications, possibly because it is no longer the only place offering free courses.
Early applications are up 29 per cent at Canterbury University and up 7 per cent at AUT. Other universities did not provide data.
Private training provider NZMA has had a 320 per cent jump in trades enrolments already, and trades campus manager Tony Atina has hired seven extra staff to cope.
However, Wintec chief executive Dave Christiansen has begun consultations to reduce about 40 positions, 5 per cent of his staff, because of the loss of foreign students, mainly in business and information technology courses.
"The net reduction is half that because we will be hiring in other areas," he said.
"Te Pūkenga is allowing us to carry a significant deficit through this year and next year, so they are helping us to keep any loss in capacity to the minimum, but we just can't make it nothing."
Town said not all early applications would turn into final enrolments, but he expected actual growth in domestic numbers of up to 25 per cent, or about 13,000 equivalent-fulltime students - offset by roughly halving last year's 10,600 overseas students.
He said 150 to 250 staff in areas hit by the loss of overseas students could lose their jobs, but Te Pūkenga was looking into opportunities to redeploy some of them within the network.
Auckland, AUT, Waikato, Victoria and Canterbury Universities have all offered voluntary redundancy packages because of losing foreign students.
Massey University, where student numbers were declining even before Covid, is discussing radical changes that could cut its science faculty by a third, or about 100 people.
Lincoln University, where almost half of the students came from overseas before Covid, has begun a "reorganisational change process" to cut staff by 5 per cent, or about 30 people.
A domestic student brings the universities only about $18,600 a year in fees and state funding, compared with almost $30,000 a year in fees from each overseas student.