Apprentice numbers in the Bay of Plenty building and construction sector have hit record levels, climbing 70 per cent in two years.
But experts said this was still not enough to keep pace with demand across the industry and the Government's Apprenticeship Boost scheme - set to end in August - needs to be extended.
The Apprenticeship Boost is a payment to help employers keep and take on new apprentices. First-year apprentices can get $1000 a month and second-year apprentices can get $500 a month.
The Government says more than 3000 people have been supported by the scheme and it will continue to look at options to support people into apprenticeships.
BCITO [Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation] director Jason Hungerford said apprentice numbers were at record levels.
Hungerford said the organisation had 21,600 apprentices nationwide undertaking training at the end of March.
In the Bay of Plenty, about 1900 apprentices were actively involved in training through the BCITO across 15 trades, 18 per cent more than the same time last year.
Fifty per cent of those were aged 18 to 25 years and 1100 were enrolled in carpentry studies, he said.
"We are also pleased that employer numbers in the Bay of Plenty are increasing."
Hungerford said in March this year there were just over 1000 employers training apprentices in the region, up from 900 in March 2021.
"Employers are essential for training apprentices who are a great asset to their business.
"We're proud to be developing a skilled workforce for the building and construction industry.
"With our transition into Te Pukenga - New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology in the future, we will be able to provide our learners with even more support and flexibility in where and how they learn."
Nick Matthews, NZ Certified Builders Pathways and Apprenticeship manager, said nationwide they were seeing increasing numbers of eager and trained apprentices entering the trades from a variety of backgrounds.
"We also encouraged our member builders to take on apprentices to help ensure there are highly-skilled builders coming through to meet increasing demand."
Matthews said about 1200 carpentry apprentices were enrolled with the ITAB apprenticeship programme nationwide or employed by NZCB members, including 200 to 250 in the Bay of Plenty.
However, he said there was still a "huge gap" between current numbers and demand across all trades, especially when it took between two to four years to train an apprentice.
"The future of the building industry depends on a robust pipeline of trade-qualified and well-rounded builders, and the NZCB's Apprentice Challenge is one way we help to foster that."
Last weekend, 20 apprentices from across the Bay of Plenty battled it out for a place in the national final of the NZ Certified Builders Apprentice Challenge, sponsored by ITM.
The regional winners will compete for the Ken Read Memorial Trophy and $25,000 worth of prizes at November's national final in Hamilton.
Master Plumbers, Gas Fitters and Drainlayers NZ chief executive Greg Wallace said despite the rise in apprentices there was still a "huge" shortage across all trade sectors.
He said about 3500 people were involved in the industry nationwide, and more than 300 apprentices were training through Master Link, including about 70 in the Bay of Plenty.
Wallace has lobbied the Government to extend the Apprenticeship Boost scheme.
"Our apprentice numbers have increased more than 100 per cent across the regions on the back of the Apprentice Boost scheme.
"But what everyone in the construction sector is anxious about is why the Government will not confirm whether the scheme will carry on past August."
Wallace said the number of licenced people in the sector had grown by only 1 per cent "because we are an ageing sector and other people are also leaving the industry".
"Today we need about 2500 to 4000 more plumbers across New Zealand. Yes, we have grown our apprentice numbers but not enough to even keep up with the demand."
He said the Apprenticeship Boost scheme also did not target industries that were dealing with a labour crisis and the current blanket approach needed to be modified.
"What's annoying me is that the Government will fund students to go to university every day of the year but its funding strategy for the construction sector is very short-term."
"If this continued funding doesn't come through in the May Budget the industry faces a further crisis."
Master Electricians chief executive Bernie McLaughlin said over the past two years the number of apprentice electricians had increased nationwide by 1350 from 4460 to 5814, including about 90 to 100 in the Bay of Plenty.
McLaughlin said this increase was "absolutely" due to the Apprenticeship Boost scheme and it was "imperative" the Government continued and expanded the scheme.
"The only way we are going to fix our housing crisis is to build more houses and you can only do that if have the people to do it.
"We need to have enough trainees and qualified people to keep up with demand and you can't do that with immigration, that's a very short-term fix."
McLaughlin said he believed the country was short about 8000 to 10,000 electricians right now.
Also of real concern was the number of baby boomers due to retire from the sector in the next seven to 10 years and also the number of younger members of the existing workforce heading overseas on their OE, he said.
Master Builders' Association chief executive David Kelly said, in a media statement, the Apprenticeship Boost scheme was a "great initiative" and a huge contributor to the rise of new apprentices.
"Programmes such as these are essential to help bring talent on board and create a skilled construction workforce."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said more than 43,000 apprentices have been supported by the Apprenticeship Boost scheme, including more than 3000 in the Bay of Plenty.
"We know the programme is helping employers to keep apprentices on during Covid-19 and that these apprentices will help accelerate our economic recovery.
"This Government continues to champion vocational training, including apprenticeships, as a viable career option and has put significant resource into ensuring that people can get apprentices and access trades training.
"We continue to look at options to support people into apprenticeships."
Mountview Green co-developer Andrea Jacobson said the significant increase in apprentices undertaking training was "fantastic" but there was still a big skills gap to fill.
"We are really supportive of our local apprenticeship training schemes and are keen to incorporate new trainees into our development projects.
"The shortage of builders and attracting lots more apprentices to enter the sector was a big issue. We're short about 10 to 20 builders in Rotorua, and really need to build up our team for the long term.
"Anyone who needs a job we would love to hear from them."
Local Apprentice Challenge champion found
Rotorua building apprentice Jonny Mills has won the 2022 Rotorua NZ Certified Builders Apprentice Challenge.
He and the other two challengers were given eight hours to build a park bench that followed specific design plans and demonstrated safe working techniques.
The 18-year-old, who is employed by Riverwood Building, also won a $500 ITM voucher.
"The competition was pretty challenging and I only just managed to finish the bench in the timeframe. It was a bit stressful as the other competitors were really good."
Mills said he was "really excited" to compete at the national final in November.
"Winning the national title would be absolutely amazing but I know I'll have fierce competition."
Mills said he was home-schooled but he began his apprenticeship mid last year. His older brother Josh is also a qualified builder and works for Glencoe Construction.
"From about the age of 12 to 13 years, I enjoyed tinkering in our home workshop, building things such as shelves, cages for rabbits and so on.
"So when I left school, I thought at least I should give carpentry a crack and see whether it was the career for me, and I haven't looked back.
"I really enjoy my job as no day is ever the same and every build you do is quite different. And I love working outdoors and really enjoy challenging myself physically and mentally."
Mills said his apprenticeship would usually take three to four years but he hoped to complete his studies in two years and one day own his own carpentry business.
He said he would highly recommend the industry to other would-be apprentices.
Apprentice Hayden Carter, 19, claimed the title of the Whakatane NZCB Apprentice Challenge and Joshua Shoebridge, 23, won the Bay of Plenty regional title.
Both will go on to compete at the national final in November.