A Northland tradesman, who took up an apprenticeship straight out of school, says he "definitely" made the right choice 10 years ago.
Whangārei sole-trader Andrew Caldwell-Smith is among thousands of Northland students to enrol in trades training programmes or apprenticeships after secondary education, as the sector sees a boom in demand compounded by a shortage of trade workers.
It is reflected in the 2022 Budget as the Government announces a $230 million investment to provide for another 24,000 apprentices getting Apprenticeship Boost support and some 14,000 to keep being supported beyond August this year.
There are already 17,000 employers across the country involved in the programme and the investment means new employers can join up.
Caldwell-Smith started his trades journey 10 years ago and was a homeowner by age 18.
Now 27, he said doing the apprenticeship was one of the best decisions he took at the time.
"I did all right at school, but it was getting pretty hard to attend and it wasn't getting me anywhere, so off I went."
Caldwell-Smith said he was good at practical things, but the mainstream education system was more focused on "book and paper".
"Skill is to teach someone to put a nail in the wall and hit it with a hammer, but they need the ability to be able to know why they are doing it.
"They need the ability to build something and manage themselves within a group; the ability to do is far more than what it takes to teach someone a skill.
"Teaching someone an ability is something they do not do at school, and a lot of people will never pick it up or find it."
Caldwell-Smith, who has projects lined up for a month, said there was a huge shortage of tradespeople in Northland and the $230m investment would be "for sure" beneficial.
As of Thursday, there were 119 jobs listed under "trades and services" on Trade Me and 73 on Seek in Northland.
Kelly-Anne Panapa, director Māori success and equity at NorthTec, suggests the trend is somewhat similar at the polytechnic, with trades classes popular this year.
"We have really strong numbers in carpentry, nursing, and social work. And it is good news since we know these areas have massive shortages of the workforce, not just in Northland but across New Zealand.
"We have really strong numbers this semester in te reo, and it is kind of showing how as a nation we are evolving."
However, Panapa said the polytech had seen a massive downturn in enrolments in almost every other subject area and they were looking very hard behind the scenes to understand the "why".
"Typically, when people come into tertiary education, we are requiring people to commit for a full qualification which is a really long time and it is at a really great expense.
"But, when you have the complexities of people living really rural and the added barriers of financial hardships, Covid-19, and so on, the idea of committing to something for four years, plus the cost and travel, it all adds up and makes it less attractive for many families.
"When young people are investing their time into some learning, they are probably not seeing the value of that.
"It has partly to do with the way our system is structured, and we've been structured towards qualification and that isn't necessarily matching up with how young people are seeing what they need."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the record low unemployment of 3.2 per cent was largely because of the investments the Government had made in training.
Over the past two years, more than 190,000 people benefited from government investment in trade training, including apprenticeships, with a 55 per cent increase in the number of apprentices since the start of the pandemic, Hipkins said.
Funding was also being extended for Māori trades training.
The Ministry of Social Development established partnerships with 17 Māori entities across Aotearoa and they were delivering unique multi-year work-focused training.