Trades can be overlooked by young people ready to make the transition from school to working life. But while sometimes posited as a second-best (and slightly grubbier) alternative to higher education, trade training can actually be an excellent first step up the career ladder.
The inaugural Got a Trade Week (which started on Friday and runs until August 28) seeks to change the preconceptions around the trades, and educate young people on the opportunities to be found here.
Focusing on school leavers and job seekers aged between 16 and 24, the week aims to help young people discover career pathways they may not have otherwise considered.
Rachel Hopkins, the chairwoman of Got a Trade Week, says this is the first official week to celebrate the significant contribution that trades make to the New Zealand employment market.
The week will be marketed to the 70 per cent of New Zealanders who don't attend university or other forms of higher education, and highlight the advantages of moving straight into the workplace from school.
"The trades are a great place to start your career," says Hopkins. "There are long-term skills shortages in many of the trades, and working here provides the opportunity to learn while you earn."
Research indicates that most school leavers are likely to have between four and 10 career changes in their lifetime, and up to 14 different employers. In-job training is likely to continue throughout life, and Hopkins feels that trades are a great place to start the journey of learning.
Trade jobs also offer paid employment from a young age. While the pay rates are initially low, they can increase relatively rapidly. Additionally, a young tradesperson won't be left with the huge student debt faced by those who chose to move into higher education.
Got a Trade Week aims to offer the trades more visibility, and allow school leavers and job seekers to be fully informed of their options. Hopkins says that many organisations are crying out for keen, reliable workers, but many young people are unaware of the opportunities that exist.
Throughout the week, businesses will open their doors and allow jobseekers to glimpse the "nuts and bolts" of the trade. Attendees will have the opportunity to speak with apprentices and others in the industry about their experiences, and see firsthand what is involved in the workplace.
The open days will take place throughout the country. Trades are the backbone of many small towns, offering support to industries such as horticulture and dairy, and providing locals with much needed employment. Participating businesses include hair salons, signmakers, construction companies and more.
Hopkins says technology plays a major role in many of the trades represented, and that stereotype of hard graft and dirty work is somewhat anachronistic.
"It's a myth that all the trades are dirty, manual and menial," she says. "Many of the trades are based on technology and innovation, and there are great opportunities for people with high levels of practical intelligence to get ahead quickly."
Another stereotype that Got a Trade Week aims to erode is that of the trades being a solely masculine domain. Hopkins says that both customers and business owners are crying out for females to join the trades and trades offer young women a unique chance for early financial independence.
"It's important for us to get more women into the trades," she says.
"It would be really shortsighted to ignore 50 per cent of the potential workforce. Women bring a different perspective to decision making and project management in trade roles, and they have an important part to play."
Many of the current "in-demand" roles within the sector exist alongside the obvious trades like building, plumbing and electrician.
"In construction for example, there is a need for people who work in areas such as air conditioning and heating, scaffolding, roofing, painting and decorating," explains Hopkins.
"The Christchurch rebuild has increased the need for tradespeople in all these areas."
She says the key message of Got a Trade Week is that New Zealand always needs more tradespeople, and that employers are crying out for bright, energetic and motivated young people to take on such roles.
As many business owners in the trades are reaching retirement age, Hopkins says there are great opportunities for future leaders to emerge through apprenticeships or entry-level jobs in these industries.
"Businesses are investing in the future," she says. "And those who invest in training really see some great results. There are many opportunities for bright young people to get a head start by moving into the trades, and hopefully Got a Trade Week will help to highlight this."
Building a career
What: Got a Trade Week 2015 - August 21-28 - is part of a national campaign to raise awareness of on-the-job training and careers in New Zealand's trades and services.
On the Web: gotatrade.co.nz