Come on in, all social workers. It's free. Well, it's not free, nothing is free, but if you want to get into social work and you're going to retrain, the state will pick up the tab via taxpayers as part of the budget's $1.6 billion training programme.

The free courses were detailed yesterday. On the list are carpentry and plumbing, which makes sense. But does social work?

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Which is not to dismiss the wonderful work social workers do. But is it a calling or a career that we are desperately short of? And is it a course people will flock to? And is it a course that enhances the economy?

My understanding of the trades programme was to get people into work. It's one of the few things the Government is actually doing towards rebuilding the economy.

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A lot of money has been put into band-aid programmes, wage subsidies and interest-free loans, which are designed to save the economy from further damage.

But what's needed and what we don't have, is a plan to get back to work, to grow jobs, to take punts, to invest in stuff that will pay dividends.

Infrastructure has $15b waiting to be spent, we still do not know on what. For things that are shovel-ready we have been told. Well what's the problem? Can't they find the shovels?

Anyway, back at the tech or the university, a whole bunch of stuff has been announced as being "free" for you to study or retrain.

Beekeeping is another.

But are we really a nation that's going to get over a depression the likes of which we have never seen by taking on a whole lot of people who look after hives?


Heavy trucking is in there, makes sense. But does hairdressing? Are we short of hairdressers?

The idea, surely, is we target jobs that need filling. Industries that need to grow. This, presumably, is part of the equation required to fill those jobs that migrants used to do that we didn't want to.

Mike Hosking. Photo / Michael Craig
Mike Hosking. Photo / Michael Craig

The clue in the $15b for infrastructure, for example, is surely it's roads and bridges and buildings. How does beekeeping, social work and hairdressing fit in?

The trap we got into in the first place was that we funded courses based on bums on seats. Put a course on, attract students, the government would write you a cheque. So we got endless courses that sounded fun but led nowhere.

I thought we'd decided to fix that. Is beekeeping fixing that? If you lost your job at the hotel in Queenstown, do you want to retrain as a social worker?