The number of Bay of Plenty 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 took on apprentices up to $16,000 for the first two years, alongside scrapped apprenticeship fees.
But Master Plumbers and Masterlink chief executive Greg Wallace said while it had no shortage of applicants, there was a lack of companies willing to provide on-job training.
New Zealand's economic recovery depended on businesses taking on apprentices, he said.
''The number 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 of 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.
Opportunities in Rotorua were steady, he said.
''But it's too soon to tell how Covid-19 will affect ongoing or future plumbing work in the area.''
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Aotea Electric Rotorua managing director Adam Harlick had two apprentices and said he took them on as there was a shortage in the industry.
Harlick said training future electricians was important ''because if you do get them qualified you hope they might want to stay''.
He supported the new initiatives and said ''that will probably help people take on apprentices but you still need the work''.
''You'll get money for the first couple of years but then it is nothing so you still need money coming in to pay them.
''So you have a lot of people of looking for apprenticeships but the demand isn't there.''
A lot of people who wanted to change careers to be an apprentice would also probably have to take a pay cut as it was likely you would start on minimum wage, he said.
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 to have in the pipeline doesn't appear to be there''.
''Our smaller contractors are generally comfortable with the workload they have 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.